I imagine Google’s stash of user data as that one scene from The Hobbit, where Smaug the Dragon is sitting on top of piles upon piles of treasure. Valuable items compiled over the years through legal and illegal means? Check. Protective of all the items? Triple check.
Unlike Bilbo Baggins, we don’t know what’s stored in Google’s data trove; all we know is that it exists. However, what if I told you that there is, in fact, a way to find what information Google has stored; that they’ve taken from you over the years?
You may call me crazy, but I’m anything but. Well, in regard to my claim, anyways. Google does indeed offer a way for you to view and download all the data the company has compiled about you over the years, and it’s easy to do.
Finding the Promised Land
- Select the type of information you want to be reported
- Configure settings for the archive folder (the folder containing your data).
Once you go through these two steps, Google will start preparing the archive but do take note that this will take a while, and when I say a while, I’m talking hours, even days depending on the archive size.
However, this archive will be compiled without your intervention, so you can distract yourself with work or whatever while Google readies the report.
Observing the Report
It’s time. After hours of anticipation, you can finally open the archive and view your data. Be warned, you may be terrified of all the data that Google has on you.
You may say that you already know what Google has on you and you’re more excited than terrified. I get it. But I don’t think anyone truly understands the mountain of data Google keeps, and climbing that mountain for the first time can give you a mean case of vertigo.
For example, Google records every instance of you talking to Google Assistant. It’s so bad that they’ve halted the practice due to recent controversy over the practice.
The tech monolith also stores data such as locations you’ve visited through Google, bookmarked sites, your search/website history and so much more. Again, it’s a mountain of data you’re volunteering to climb.
The Importance of Transparency
While Google is guilty of invading user privacy and, in general, not respecting the rights of the user, their transparency about what they’re storing is admirable. Makes you wonder why every company doesn’t do something like this? Even Facebook does it! Facebook!
Sit back and think of the amazing capabilities social media brings to the table. Communication from anywhere, a soapbox for anyone and everyone and a platform that encourages community. Isn’t it convenient it’s all free?
It would be kind of other websites to offer a report on the data they’ve collected of us. It’s the least they could do for us, you know, since our willingness to hand over data kind of keeps them afloat.
What I find worrying is the lack of education around data. Specifically, the collection of data. I had a friend in my cybersecurity classes who thought a VPN trial was all he needed to protect all your data from being stored by Google, Twitter, Facebook, etc. We quickly corrected him.
Until more citizens realize the value of their data, companies will get away with recording all our data, and no transparency can make up for that.