How Google, Facebook, & Apple Use Your Private Information

Today’s tech companies collect copious amounts of personal data. Understanding this practice is the first step to protecting your personal privacy.

Today’s digital ecosystem is expansive, and it’s powered by personal data. Each day, people produce 2.5 quintillion bytes of data, a staggering number that will continue to soar as digital platforms become increasingly popular. 

In the digital age, personal data is, as The Economist describes, “the world’s most valuable resource.” Tech companies gleefully gobble up every view, click, like, and share to create highly targeted advertising that, in many ways, powers the internet age. 

Simply put, data mining is big business, and it won’t be meaningfully altered anytime soon. Therefore, consumers must understand how their data is used and how to protect their privacy in an environment increasingly committed to subverting this priority.

Are Tech Giants Spying on Me?

Digital platforms are so ubiquitous that their core functionalities transcend language, becoming verbs rather than nouns. “Googling,” “Ubering,” “Netflix and chill,” are colloquial expressions that broadly reflect the popularity of online services. 

With nearly all American adults and half of the world’s population carrying around a smartphone, people have never had more access to a broad range of digital platforms, each dependent on personal data to feed their bottom lines. 

In turn, data collection has never been more expansive, and, while lawmakers and regulators are pushing for transparency, the average consumer is often unaware of the data ecosystem hovering just below the surface of each service, prompting The New York Times tech newsletter to call on tech companies to adapt “radical candor” to help users navigate this environment. 

In the meantime, we need to put our best foot forward when it comes to understanding data collection practices. 

Google

Google not only dominates online search, maintaining more than 90% of search engine market share, but the company has more than four billion users trafficking its email platform, maps, application, and G-suite services. What’s more, Google developed the Android mobile operating system, giving it even more specific insights into user behavior. 

What Information Does Google Collect? 

The compay mines and stores copious amounts of user data, which they details in their privacy policy, including: 

  • Google searches, even those conducted in incognito mode. 
  • Written and received email. 
  • Location search information. 
  • App usage. 
  • YouTube viewing watching history. 
  • Requests issued through Google Assistant. 
  • G Suite interactions, including calendar events and Hangout information. 

Additionally, Google users provide their names, addresses, phone numbers, and other personal information when they sign up for the service, allowing the company to attain personally identifiable information from the very beginning. 

Find out what private information Google collects and stores. Use Google Takeout, the company’s data export service to download the data this tech giant gathers. Armed with a clear picture of Google’s data collection practices, update your settings, and minimize your data exposure.

How Does Google Use Your Information?

Google uses personal data to create a comprehensive personal profile that helps the tech company sell more than $100 billion in targeted ads each year. 

Google also relies on this information to update and improve its services. User data allows the giant to optimize its algorithms, provide search trends, power its “Hot Trends” product, and provide location tracking. 

Other instances of data acquisition are less personal but equally as invasive. The company relies on data collection to improve things like spell check while also generating user insights to create new products. 

In some instances, Google can provide your personal data to authorities.

Does Google Sell Your Information?

Google’s business model is contingent on selling targeted advertising. Therefore, the company does not sell user data to outside companies, something that Google states in its Safety Center

However, that doesn’t mean that user data isn’t valuable. The company makes nearly 90% of its revenue from targeted advertising, making user data a precious commodity to Google and its parent company, Alphabet.

Facebook

Prolific data collection strategies at Facebook, including Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger, catapulted the company to the Fortune 100 list and made it one of the biggest personal data accumulators on the web.

What Information Does Facebook Collect?

Users routinely provide the platform with their most intimate details. Facebook actively tracks a deluge of activity to create detailed and precise advertising profiles that drive its bottom line. Users agree to let Facebook record all on-site activity, including searches, groups, friends, and Messenger activity. 

In addition, the largest social network collects information unrelated to its services. IP addresses, advertisement engagement, browser data, visit frequency, and other personal details are also available to the company. 

Facebook’s “Customer List” product also allows real-world businesses to upload customer data to the platform, expanding the social networks reach and creating even more comprehensive advertising profiles. 

Facebook’s data collection tentacles are far-reaching, tracking users across the internet and even logging real-world activity (like when users check-in at in-person locations). To better understand the social media giant’s data collection policies, users need to analyze their Facebook data. You can download your data by accessing the “Your Facebook Information” portal. Users should also access Facebook’s new service, Off-Facebook Activity, to view 180 days of off-platform activity that the company tracks.

How Does Facebook Use Your Information?

Fundamentally, Facebook is an advertising delivery platform, and its primary data application is serving highly-targeted ads to its billions of users. However, the company’s efforts also transcend the advertising business.

In 2012, the company conducted a clandestine mood manipulation experiment, analyzing personal data to evaluate the impact of positive and negative messaging on its users. Similarly, the Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed that Facebook harnessed user data to create psychological profiles on millions of voters, which impacted significant campaigns in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Frighteningly, in 2009, Facebook provided government spy agencies access to servers, allowing government agencies to provide extensive surveillance of Facebook users. While agencies already have access to significant data swaths, Facebook can also be compelled to turn over user data to various agencies when required by a legal warrant. 

Does Facebook Sell My Information?

According to Facebook’s official policies, the company doesn’t sell your information. Rather, advertisers and other partners pay Facebook to provide personalized ads on the company’s platforms. Facebook collects advertising targets from partners and uses this information to create company-specific advertising initiatives.

Apple

As anyone who has seen an Apple product launch in the past few years can attest, Apple goes to great lengths to differentiate its privacy policies from the rest of the tech sector. 

The company frequently touts its privacy-focused approach, describing privacy as a fundamental human right while noting that it is a hardware producer, not a software seller. As such, Apple strives to collect less data than its Silicon Valley competitors, seeing it as a market differentiator. The company also improves security for information it does collect by relying on on-device processing and encryption. Most notably, the latest iteration of its Safari internet browser comes with a cadre of privacy-first features, including tracker identification and blocking, that help the company boost its privacy credentials. 

However, Apple still collects certain information, and users shouldn’t presume that Apple is disinterested in capitalizing on personal information. 

What Information Does Apple Collect?

Apple collects meta-data on its product offerings, including iMessage, FaceTime, Maps, iCloud, photos, and more. Similarly, Apple receives device data from the billions of iPhone users, including GPS data.

Download and review your Apple data to understand the ways the tech giant collects and uses your personal information. The “Privacy Inquiries” page on Apple’s Privacy Policy page leads customers through a step-by-step process of downloading and viewing their personal data. Results take at least five business days, and users should expect to be contacted by Apple support staff for identification verification purposes. 

How Does Apple Use Your Information?

Apple relies on user data to provide personalized experiences for its suite of entertainment-focused apps, including Music, News, TV+, and Podcasts. Similarly, the company uses the information to improve its products, like Siri. 

Apple’s revenue is predicated on its reputation as a hardware distributor, making advertising and other data-driven initiatives less critical. 

Notably, while Apple has fought several contentious and well-publicized battles with authorities, the company does have certain legal obligations to adhere to government requests for personal data, which it actively documents on a dedicated webpage

Does Apple Sell Your Information?

Importantly, Apple does sell ads, which are displayed in the News app and App Store. Like Facebook, Apple doesn’t sell information to advertisers, but the company sells access to its customers. Therefore, while customer data isn’t directly transacted, it continues to be a valuable commodity for even the most privacy-minded tech companies. 

Final Thoughts

Collectively, it’s clear that the digital age is predicated on data collection. Now that we better understand the overwhelming amount of data gathered by tech giants, it’s the right time to consider limits to data sharing and collection. After all, Google, Facebook, and Apple, are just the beginning of the complicated web of tech companies and many other businesses, including  data brokers, that capitalize on personal information. 

OneRep automatic privacy protection tool helps you remove unauthorized listings from 100+ data broker engines and keeps monitoring your personal information online to make sure it doesn’t pop back up. Contact us today to start protecting your privacy on the internet. 

 
Iryna Slabodchykava

Content Strategy Manager at OneRep | LinkedIn