How does Google collect data

The information portal for safe cell phone use

Data that you share yourself

Everyone who uses a Google service agrees to the Group's privacy policy. This applies both to users who create a Google account and to everyone who just Google something.

There it says which data the company is legally allowed to collect based on this consent. Google tries to make it understandable. Nevertheless, the explanation remains opaque in important places.

On the one hand, Google collects the data that everyone communicates themselves. For example, the profile information that you enter in your Google account, such as email address, telephone number and credit card number.

All content that is entered in other Google apps and services also ends up with the group: calendar entries, contacts, e-mails, notes, voice commands, typed search queries and so on.

Data that Google collects on the side

On the other hand, there is the data that Google reads out on behalf of its users. For example, the device used, its operating system, the model and the screen size are recorded.

This is fundamentally useful, for example, in order to deliver websites in the correct form to the device used. However, Google also explicitly records your IP address, reads your telephone number from the SIM card of the smartphone and saves unique device IDs. In the case of smartphones, this can be the IMEI number, for example.

The IP address can be used to draw conclusions about the whereabouts, and the IMEI can be used to permanently and clearly identify the device. Google can use it to merge all data that ends up at the company from this device.

The smartphone as a treasure trove of data

Smartphones provide Google with a particularly large amount of data - especially when the standard Android operating system is used with pre-installed Google services such as the Play Store. With desktop computers, Google only learns about users when they open a browser.

The Android device, on the other hand, communicates with Google all by itself. Anyone who buys an Android smartphone in stores will almost exclusively get devices preconfigured with Google. Regardless of whether you do a Google search via a browser, set up a Google app, use the Play Store or do nothing at all on the phone - Google gets user data.

The group can record how often you use your device, what the battery level is, which WiFi connections are available and whether the screen is locked. In addition, Google logs which apps were loaded with the Play Store and when they were used. Android devices contact Google servers at regular intervals and transfer the information mentioned.

Particularly tricky Google's access to the telephone function. At least until 2016, Google collected all metadata relating to calls and SMS sent. This included "your own telephone number, caller number, forwarding numbers, date and time of calls, duration of calls, SMS routing information and type of calls." But neither is data.

Opposition options in the Google account

Much of the information collected is accessible to users in the Google account. This affects the data from all devices that are linked to a Google account.

You can view and delete this data and prevent it from being saved in your account. However, the data protection declaration remains vague on the question of what exactly this "prohibition" means. Google uses the phrase "You can specify ... which information should be saved in your account".

In some cases, this means that Google is actually not collecting the data at all. This applies, for example, to the location data. They are also saved in the Google account by default and can be managed there. If the storage is deactivated, the location information is not saved.

Apparently, Google recorded the location at least in 2017 independently of the location services - via the position of the cell towers. According to the company, this location data was neither saved nor evaluated. More on this in our message Google secretly operates cell location.

Doubtful anonymization

However, a lot of information is also recorded if no account is linked. If you use Google search or Google Maps and are not logged into your Google account, some data will still be processed. This includes the IP address, the search terms, as well as the browser and operating system version.

When it comes to deletion periods for this data, Google says vaguely in its privacy policy: "In some cases, we store data for a specified period of time instead of offering an option to delete it. Depending on the type of data, we set a retention period depending on the reason for the collection."

It is unclear to what extent this data is used for so-called fingerprinting. With fingerprinting, website visitors can be identified using various features of the hardware, software or other variables used - because the individual combination of these features can be as unique as a fingerprint.

Advertising as a business

Advertising is Google's main business area, and its share of the digital advertising market is around 40 percent. Accordingly, all products and also the data protection conditions are tailored to support this business model.

By agreeing to the data protection declaration, you give Google the right to search your own content in order to display advertising that is as accurate as possible.

Exception: According to the European General Data Protection Regulation, the processing of certain sensitive personal information is prohibited. This includes information on religion and sexual orientation, for example. Accordingly, Google does not tailor personalized advertising to these characteristics and does not pass them on to partner companies.

Google reserves this option for all other data.

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