The ways Google collects information about us

Posted By March 20th, 2009

google logo
With Google becoming an ever growing search engine providing search results to over 100,000,000 users, people may begin to wonder, just what information does Google collect from me to provide tailored search results? Or Google adsense advertisements.

With such a large user base, and the biggest index of search results in the world, Google has the ability to promote hundreds of thousands of businesses via a number of different advertising methods, from providing tailored adsense results to recommended search results via your circumstances.
Google has a number of ways of collecting information, one of the most common ways of collecting information is through Google’s toolbar which not only records search data, but also reveals the websites you have visited when page rank is requested.

Google also collects cookies that are created by Google user sessions, either through a browser or tool. The cookie will usually track websites that have been visited, the type of websites visited, the navigation path or the keywords used. Typically any information collected by Google is not used to identify the user but instead to discover typical browsing habits affiliated with users searching for various keywords.
Google collects this information not only to provide more targeted results but also to generate targeted adsense results based upon the users query. Information is used in the generation of revenue by providing better results.

The clockwork system that Google works on not only generates revenue for Google and the businesses spending money, but also provides the most relevant results for the end user.
For example, if you are looking to buy a pair of shoes online, you may perform a search in Google which will lead to you visiting a website and making a purchase. Google through a number of ways may have learned that you search lead to a conversion, this information is stored in a cookie that Google will request. The business who had the conversion as a result may spend more on Google pay per click or may feature more Google advertisements through adsense.

The end result means that you have made a purchase because Google’s results were accurate, the company selling the shoes has made revenue through your order, and Google make money from the pay per click costs involved.

In the case of natural search, this information contributes towards Google’s PPC data for the adwords tools.

So what exactly is used to collect your information, and how does the data collection from Google work? Lets look at some of the ways in which Google collects your information.

All searches in Google are recorded, whenever you make a search in Google, the query is recorded and the information contributes towards the pay per click tools such as Google’s keyword tool or traffic estimator. The information also becomes attributed to various other tools including Google Sets and Google Trends.
The recording of this information is used in a variety of ways, typically it is to further enhance results but also to provide search trend information to those looking to spend money through Google’s other advertising avenues.

The barrier between the information being used to identify you is mainly in place as Google maintain that no statistics are used to personally identify you unless stated otherwise. So in general this could mean that the natural search queries are recorded but no data alongside that is used to identify you. However for a financial product, information may be collected to identify you.

When you visit a web page, Google adsense will typically return ads related to the search query made, this enhances the likelihood of the end user clicking on the adsense link. This information enhances adsense ads by recording users information and click behaviours between websites to fine tune the results returned for adsense.

When adsense information is observed a tracking cookie will record the movements made around the ad, this information is sometimes used towards PPC information for evaluating the value of a keyword. PPC Keywords range in click value, this value is derived from the conversion potential and competition levels.
Another instance of Google tracking information is through Google reader. When using this product, Google reader will report back on the common blogs you subscribe too and the sites visited through the reader. This information is used to further enhance the reader product. When developing recommended bookmarks, this is derived from the popularity of blog sites and other information websites accessed through the reader.

The next item of information usually collected/shared is when a person signs up for a financial service with Google, this is mostly pay per click related but can also be through Google Checkout, adsense and other financial services with Google have to collect financial information and personal information for identification and verification purposes. This information is typically stored under very secure circumstances, none of this information is shared with other parties.

Another piece of information that Google will collect hails from Google’s analytics platform. With analytics, Google will gain an insight into the websites that are controlled by the account owner, as well as the popularity of the websites within. Google also uses its own analytics to evaluate just how a website behaves and how the visitors utilize it, for example, with analytics, the information collected may provide insight into a websites performance and how it manages its users, what the bounce rates are etc. This information potentially contributes towards website selection. If a website has a very high bounce rate, Google may record this information from analytics and use this as a ranking factor.

The next product Google will use to collect information is Gmail. Gmail is Google’s mail platform which offers free e-mail addresses and free online document storage, Google will have information on you from your account details and by the information contained within your documentation.
Google is also able to detect if you are connected via a social networking website such as Facebook, Bebo or Myspace. With your Google details these are used against indexed pages of social networking websites to see if you have a profile.

Google will also record searches you have made and will also populate other frequent searches within your jurisdiction to establish commonly search keywords within various regions, for example, Google could monitor the search activity in a region and observe high levels of flu related searches, Google could then use this information to tailor searches more suited to people in the region.

If you decide to use Google maps, then your queries are recorded to see the areas being observed, this data is stored by Google and is not passed onto 3rd parties. Google maps records details of searches and can observe trends in requested location data. This location data is also used to evaluate common interest between observationists and as such means that Google can provide additional images/resources related to the area’s searched.

When searching youtube, your searches and geographic data is recorded, this has recently been used to prevent UK users from accessing thousands of music videos that breach copyright laws. Video data is recorded to monitor popular keyword searches and video popularity. This data is used to deliver targeted ads in some video’s that are watched.

A variety of Google applications may collect and share data dependant on the application, everything from Google Chrome to Google Talk. This information is not usually used to identify you but instead to make your search/application use into statistics that help contribute to other peoples browsing/application use habits. Other goals include the better delivery of targeted sales advertising through PPC and Adsense.
What ever you decide to use it will more then likely create a cookie or collect data from search queries/applications. This information is used to further enhance search results/targeted advertising and also contributes towards better natural search results.

Tags: , ,

3 Responses to “The ways Google collects information about us”

  1. Scopey says:

    So Google is the all seeing all knowing Robot. They could do a lot of things with that information if they wanted to. Good job they are all just a bunch of friendly californian types.

  2. Samantha Jones says:

    Yes Scopey, they’re a friendly, not to mention optimistic bunch at Google… with their online usage not affected by the economic down-turn, I guess they have good reason to be.

  3. Andrew says:

    Interesting post, keep the good stuff coming, good content appreciated!

Leave a Reply