Google has far more data about us than Facebook. Yet unlike Mark Zuckerberg’s social networking empire, which has been under fire for improperly leaking user data, Google has sidestepped controversy.
You may wonder: Why is that? After all, we turn to Google for not only our internet searches but also for our emails, calendaring, maps, photo uploads, video streaming, mobile phones and web browsers. That’s far more pervasive than the baby photos and comments that we post on Facebook.
To help get an answer, I downloaded a copy of all of the information that Google has on me. Then I compared the trove to all the data that I already knew Facebook had obtained on me.
What I found was that my Google data archive was much larger than my Facebook file — about 12 times larger, in fact — but it was also packed with fewer unpleasant surprises.
Most of what I saw in my Google file was information I already knew I had put in there, like my photos, documents and Google emails, while my Facebook data contained a list of 500 advertisers with my contact information and a permanent record of friends I thought I had “deleted” years ago, among other shockers.
Whenever I was perturbed by parts of my Google data, like a record of the Android apps I had opened over the past several years, I was relieved to find out I could delete the data. In contrast, when I downloaded my Facebook data, I found that a lot of what I saw could not be purged.
Aaron Stein, a Google spokesman, said the company had spent many years developing tools for people to download their information.
“It should be easy for people to understand and control their Google data,” he said. “We encourage everyone to use these tools so they can make the privacy choices that are right for them.”
That’s not to say that we should be complacent. Tech companies like Google and Facebook have an incredible amount of power over us that only increases with the more that they know. So downloading and analyzing your Google data, and determining what information you want to keep around or delete, is an exercise I highly recommend. Here’s how I did it — and what I learned.
Wading Through Google Takeout
The tool for downloading your Google data is called Takeout, which was released in 2008. Go to google.com/takeout and select the information you want