Close
Date TimeMay 10, 2018
VoicePersonal data collection practices are in the hot seat. So why isn't Google, which collects more data than Facebook, feeling the heat?
Google sells the future, powered by your personal data
Google CEO Sundar Pichai stood on stage at the company’s yearly developer conference on Tuesday and rolled out some of its most advanced technology: an assistant that can schedule appointments for you over the phone, customized suggestions in Google Maps, and even a new feature that can help finish your sentences as you type an email.
It’s all underpinned by the same thing: the massive trove of data that Google is collecting on billions of people every day.
Until recently, most users may have either been unaware their data was being used like this or were fine with the tradeoff. Google has seven products that each have at least 1 billion active monthly users, and they couldn’t work as well without access to users’ data.
That has helped make Google one of the world’s most well-regarded brands, according to a Morning Consult poll. But in a post-Cambridge Analytica world that is growing increasingly leery of how major tech companies track people, the data collection practices by the world’s leading digital advertising company have come under renewed scrutiny.
"Google is walking a very fine line,” David Yoffie, a professor at the Harvard Business School, said in an email. “Search, plus Android gives Google amazing insight into individual behavior. Google’s stated privacy policies seem adequate, but the question that I cannot answer is whether Google’s stated policy and actual behavior are one and the same. Facebook had a stated policy for the last three years which most of us found acceptable, until Cambridge Analytica came to light.”

Where does the data come from?
The more Google products you use, the more Google can gather about you. Whether it’s Gmail, the Android smartphone operating system, YouTube, Google Drive, Google Maps, and, of course, Google Search — the company is collecting gigabytes of data about you.
“We use the information we collect from all of our services to provide, maintain, protect and improve them, to develop new ones, and to protect Google and our users,” Google says in its privacy policy. “We also use this information to offer you tailored content – like giving you more relevant search results and ads.”
Google offers free access to these tools and in return shows you super-targeted advertising, which is how it made $31.2 billion in revenue in just the first three months of 2018.
The company’s data collection practices also include scanning your email to extract keyword data for use in other Google products and services and to improve its machine learning capabilities, Google spokesman Aaron Stein confirmed in an email to NBC News.
“We may analyze [email] content to customize search results, better detect spam and malware,” he added, later noting Google has customized search in this way since 2012.
How Google collects data from Gmail users and what it uses that data for has been a particularly sensitive topic. In June 2017, Google said it would stop scanning Gmail messages in order to sell targeted ads. After this article was published, Google’s confirmation that it does still collect data from the email of Gmail users drew attention from some journalists that cover technology and digital privacy.
Google reached out to NBC to clarify that the company’s spokesperson was referring to “narrow use cases” in Gmail.
"First, since 2012, we’ve enabled people to use Google Search to find information from their Gmail accounts by answering questions like 'When is my restaurant reservation?'" Stein, the Google spokesperson, wrote in an email. "We present customized search results containing this information if someone is signed-in and asks us for it. Second, like other email providers, our systems may also automatically process email messages to detect spam, malware and phishing patterns, to help us stop this abuse and protect people’s inboxes. We have the most secure email service because of these systems - and they are powered by machine learning technology.”
It doesn’t stop there, though. Google says it is also leverages some of its datasets to “help build the next generation of ground-breaking artificial intelligence solutions.” On Tuesday, Google rolled out “Smart Replies,” in which artificial intelligence helps users finish sentences.
The extent of the information Google has can be eyebrow-raising even for technology professionals. Dylan Curran, an information technology consultant, recently downloaded everything Facebook had on him and got a 600-megabyte file. When he downloaded the same kind of file from Google, it was 5.5 gigabytes, about nine times as large. His tweets highlighting each kind of information Google had on him, and therefore other users, got nearly 170,000 retweets.
“This is one of the craziest things about the modern age, we would never let the government or a corporation put cameras/microphones in our homes or location trackers on us, but we just went ahead and did it ourselves because … I want to watch cute dog videos,” Curran wrote.
What does Google guarantee?
The company has installed various guardrails against this data being misused. It says it doesn’t sell your personal information, makes user data anonymous after 18 months, and offers tools for users to delete their recorded data piece by piece or in its (almost) entirety, and to limit how they’re being tracked and targeted for advertising. And it doesn't allow marketers to target users based on sensitive categories like beliefs, sexual interests or personal hardships.
However, that doesn't prevent the company from selling advertising slots that can be narrowed to a user’s ZIP code. Combined with enough other categories of interest and behavior, Google advertisers can create a fairly tight Venn diagram of potential viewers of a marketing message, with a minimum of 100 people.
"They collect everything they can, as a culture," Scott Cleland, chairman of NetCompetition, an advocacy group that counts Comcast and other cable companies among its members, told NBC News. "They know they'll find some use for it."

What can you do about it?
Users can see and limit the data Google collects on them by changing their advertising preferences through an online dashboard.
The internet giant offers fine-tune controls to opt out of tracking via Google’s advertising cookie, as well as limiting whether you’ll see targeted ads based on your interest groups and categories. You can also see and delete many of the personal tracking data about yourself, including your entire search history and any geolocation data that may have been tracking your every physical movement if you were signed into Google services on your phone.
“We give users controls to delete individual items, services or their entire account,” said Google’s Stein. “When a user decides to delete data, we go through a process over time to safely and completely remove it from our systems, including backups. We keep some data with a user’s Google Account, like when and how they use certain features, until the account is deleted.”
New European data privacy rules known as GDPR are set to go into effect on May 25. Those new regulations are supposed to limit what data can be collected on users and give them the ability to completely delete their data from systems, as well as bring their data from one service to another. Companies like Google will be forced to more clearly spell out to customers what kind of data is being collected and no longer be able to bury them in fine print, with fines for violations up to 4 percent of revenue.

What might Google do in the future?
All that data is already valuable to Google, but it could yield an even greater return once paired with advanced artificial intelligence systems that offer highly personalized services, like a souped-up version of Google Assistant.
“On your way to a friend’s house and say ‘find wine’ and you’ll get recommendations for a store that is still open and also not out of the route,” said Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a research group founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
Google rolled out personalized maps on Tuesday.
But Etzioni recommended caution before we unleash swarms of digital agents.
Already we’ve seen some unpleasant effects. Palantir, a security and data-mining firm, sells software that hoovers up data and allows law enforcement to engage in “predictive policing,” guesstimating who might commit crimes. Uber’s self-driving car experiment resulted in a pedestrian being killed after the software was tuned too far in the direction of ignoring stray objects, like plastic bags.
“We need to think hard about how AI gathers and extrapolates data,” Etzioni said. “It has deep implications.”

Related Stories
Pi day: What is Pi Day? How have Google broken a world record for Pi?Pi day: What is Pi Day? How have Google broken a world record for Pi?
Google adds Snake to Maps for April Fools Day gagGoogle adds Snake to Maps for April Fools' Day gag
Here’s how you’ll access Google’s Stadia cloud gaming serviceHere’s how you’ll access Google’s Stadia cloud gaming service
Man, Woman, and Robot in Ian McEwan’s New NovelMan, Woman, and Robot in Ian McEwan’s New Novel
News Trends
Beyoncé lands $60M deal with NetflixBeyoncé lands $60M deal with Netflix
Tesla’s Elon Musk could earn up to $2.2 billion from stock optionsTesla’s Elon Musk could earn up to $2.2 billion from stock options
Paris police use tear gas against yellow vest protestersParis police use tear gas against 'yellow vest' protesters
Adele announces separation from husband Simon KoneckiAdele announces separation from husband Simon Konecki
Elizabeth Warren says House should start impeachment proceedings for TrumpElizabeth Warren says House should start impeachment proceedings for Trump
Michelle Williams and her husband, musician Phil Elverum, have splitMichelle Williams and her husband, musician Phil Elverum, have split
These Wisps Around Black Holes Could Reveal How the Cosmic Beasts EatThese Wisps Around Black Holes Could Reveal How the Cosmic Beasts Eat
Boyz n the Hood director John Singleton suffers stroke: report'Boyz n the Hood' director John Singleton suffers stroke: report
Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez wants ONE thing to STAY - Michael Owen reveals what hes heardNewcastle boss Rafa Benitez wants ONE thing to STAY - Michael Owen reveals what he's heard
Johnny Depp Allegedly Tried to Get Amber Heard Fired From AquamanJohnny Depp Allegedly Tried to Get Amber Heard Fired From Aquaman
Leaders
Donald-TrumpDonald Trump
45th President of the United States of America
Mike-PenceMike Pence
Vice President of the United States
Theresa-MayTheresa May
British Prime Minister
Angela-MerkelAngela Merkel
Chancellor of Germany
Emmanuel-MacronEmmanuel Macron
President of France
Justin-TrudeauJustin Trudeau
Prime Minister of Canada
Nancy-PelosiNancy Pelosi
Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
Barack-ObamaBarack Obama
44th U.S. President
Vladimir-PutinVladimir Putin
Russian President
Shinzo-AbeShinzō Abe
Prime Minister of Japan
Related Stories
Pi day: What is Pi Day? How have Google broken a world record for Pi?Pi day: What is Pi Day? How have Google broken a world record for Pi?
Google adds Snake to Maps for April Fools Day gagGoogle adds Snake to Maps for April Fools' Day gag
Here’s how you’ll access Google’s Stadia cloud gaming serviceHere’s how you’ll access Google’s Stadia cloud gaming service
Man, Woman, and Robot in Ian McEwan’s New NovelMan, Woman, and Robot in Ian McEwan’s New Novel
News Trends
Beyoncé lands $60M deal with NetflixBeyoncé lands $60M deal with Netflix
Tesla’s Elon Musk could earn up to $2.2 billion from stock optionsTesla’s Elon Musk could earn up to $2.2 billion from stock options
Paris police use tear gas against yellow vest protestersParis police use tear gas against 'yellow vest' protesters
Adele announces separation from husband Simon KoneckiAdele announces separation from husband Simon Konecki
Elizabeth Warren says House should start impeachment proceedings for TrumpElizabeth Warren says House should start impeachment proceedings for Trump
Michelle Williams and her husband, musician Phil Elverum, have splitMichelle Williams and her husband, musician Phil Elverum, have split
These Wisps Around Black Holes Could Reveal How the Cosmic Beasts EatThese Wisps Around Black Holes Could Reveal How the Cosmic Beasts Eat
Boyz n the Hood director John Singleton suffers stroke: report'Boyz n the Hood' director John Singleton suffers stroke: report
Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez wants ONE thing to STAY - Michael Owen reveals what hes heardNewcastle boss Rafa Benitez wants ONE thing to STAY - Michael Owen reveals what he's heard
Johnny Depp Allegedly Tried to Get Amber Heard Fired From AquamanJohnny Depp Allegedly Tried to Get Amber Heard Fired From Aquaman
Leaders
Donald-TrumpDonald Trump
45th President of the United States of America
Mike-PenceMike Pence
Vice President of the United States
Theresa-MayTheresa May
British Prime Minister
Angela-MerkelAngela Merkel
Chancellor of Germany
Emmanuel-MacronEmmanuel Macron
President of France
Justin-TrudeauJustin Trudeau
Prime Minister of Canada
Nancy-PelosiNancy Pelosi
Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
Barack-ObamaBarack Obama
44th U.S. President
Vladimir-PutinVladimir Putin
Russian President
Shinzo-AbeShinzō Abe
Prime Minister of Japan
Robot dogs that freaked people by opening doors out may soon come to a building near you
'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' Officially Revived at NBC
Iraq elections: Voters head to the polls at critical time
Two Britons kidnapped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
At meeting with automakers, Trump launches new attack on NAFTA
Kremlin: US move on Iran brings Russia and Europe closer
Police confirm death of Frightened Rabbit singer Scott Hutchison
John Kelly: Trump ‘Somewhat Embarrassed’ About Russia Probe
SpaceX Aborts 1st Launch of Upgraded Falcon 9 Rocket at the Last Minute
Rihanna's wedding night advice for Meghan Markle and Prince Harry
Emmanuel Macron preaches European unity amid U.S. tensions
'He's dying anyway': White House official mocked Sen. John McCain, reports say
Elon Musk's first underground LA tunnel could be ready to ride in a few months
7 Killed In What May Be Australia’s Worst Mass Shooting Since 1996
Cisco has yanked all its ads from YouTube
ISIS: Trump says five 'most wanted' leaders captured
Putin scores 5 goals in exhibition hockey game
David Goodall tells CNN: I 'welcome' death
Trump reveals details of meeting with Kim Jong Un
Wayne Rooney agrees to join DC United
Has NASA found aliens? Discovery of habitable planets with seasons could reveal alien life
Monica Lewinsky says she was uninvited from event when Bill Clinton decided to attend
Trump signs Holocaust property law that has angered Poland
Malaysia's former leader set to become world's oldest PM at 92
The Latest: Israel says 'nearly all' Iranian targets hit
President Trump greets American prisoners freed by North Korea
Israel and Iran's most direct confrontation
Boris Johnson and Ivanka Trump photo MOCKED on Twitter: ‘CREEPIER version of your daddy'
CIA nominee Gina Haspel says ‘tough lessons’ learned from interrogation
Amy Schumer Struggles With 'SNL' Facts in Behind-the-Scenes Tour
Trump rules out DMZ as location for North Korea summit
New outbreak of Ebola kills 17 in Democratic Republic of Congo 
MIDDLE EAST CRISIS: Saudi Arabia ATTACKED as country's air defence intercepts TWO missiles
SpaceX set to debut newest Falcon 9 Rocket: 'Block 5'
Late-Night Hosts Weigh in on U.S. Pulling Out of Iran Deal
US officials concerned Iran could attack Israel
US company linked to Russian oligarch paid $500K to Trump's personal attorney
Iran nuclear deal: Donald Trump sends EU into a PANIC with decision to pull US from pact
Trump: Pompeo heading to North Korea to arrange summit with Kim Jong Un
Trump announces withdrawal from Iran nuclear deal, isolating him further from world
Scarlett Johansson wears Marchesa, owned by Harvey Weinstein's estranged wife, to Met Gala
Trump is expected to announce he will allow sanctions to go forward on Iran
Kim Jong Un makes unexpected trip to meet China's Xi
Macron 'ENRAGED' as English set to be MAIN language in EU after Brexit
Trains collide in Germany, killing 2 and injuring 14
Are we in the AI revolution? Microsoft's keynote points to huge change
Elon Musk quietly dating musician Grimes
Weapons to watch in Russia's Victory Day parade
Oliver North poised to become next National Rifle Association president
Melania Trump to focus on social media behaviour in children’s agenda
Trump says he'll announce Iran deal decision Tuesday afternoon
Putin sworn in for fourth presidential term (FULL VIDEO)
Boris Johnson uses Fox & Friends to urge Trump to stay in Iran deal
SpaceX Dragon capsule returns to Earth from Space Station
John Oliver Says "Goodbye Forever" After Koala Chlamydia Ward Is Named After Him
'We are not under US orders' Turkey vows to retaliate if Trump bans Russian arms deal
Egypt says there’s no hidden rooms in King Tut’s tomb after all
Melania Trump to announce formal platform Monday during Rose Garden ceremony
Iran fears send US oil above $70 for first time since 2014
Fate of Iran nuclear deal at stake as UK foreign secretary heads to Washington
N. Korea: Trump ruining good mood ahead of summit
Rudy Giuliani: Cohen might have paid other women for Trump 'if necessary'
Russian police release opposition leader Alexei Navalny
Anger in France, Britain over Trump's gun law speech
Bomb at Afghanistan voter registration centre leaves 12 dead
LeBron James hits game-winner at buzzer to give Cavs 3-0 series lead over Raptors
East London hit by ACID ATTACK spree: Three rushed to hospital in morning horror
Rouhani says plans in place for any Trump decision on nuclear deal: TV
Tunisia holds 1st local election since 2011 Arab Spring
Stormy Daniels Plays Herself in Star-Studded 'SNL' Cold Open
Musk: 'Super, super serious' about starting a candy company
Trump angers France and Britain with his NRA speech
Thousands protest against Macron under heavy security in Paris
Thousands of Scottish independence supporters march through Glasgow
John McCain, battling brain cancer, tells Biden to stay in politics
Israeli PM to visit Moscow for talks on Mideast developments
Sir Alex Ferguson, former Manchester United coach, hospitalized
High blood pressure: Five summer foods to cut your BP reading
Russia protests: Anti-Putin demonstrators take to the streets - ‘he is NOT our Tsar’
Lebanon prepares for 1st parliament vote in 9 years
NASA launches mission to Mars
Two centuries on, Karl Marx feels more revolutionary than ever | Stuart Jeffries
'Pyongyang Time' scrapped as North Korea synchronises clocks with the South
6.9-magnitude earthquake hits Hawaii’s Big Island, USGS says, following a recent volcanic eruption
NASA InSight set to launch Saturday to help scientists study inner depths of Mars
Trump shames Mueller team in NRA speech, on heels of judge's rebuke
This is the music video the Parkland students made
Star Wars Day: What to do on May 4 (and why)
'They threw everything they had and FAILED' Theresa May taunts Labour after election FLOP
Meghan Markle’s parents to meet Queen Elizabeth II, other royals ahead of wedding
Kris Jenner defends Kanye West, calls Khloe Kardashian 'a good mom'
Palestinian leader apologizes for speech condemned as anti-Semitic
Unemployment below 4% in US for first time since 2000
Trump walks back Giuliani: 'He'll get his facts straight'
Kevin Hart thanks ‘angels’ after private jet blows tire
Labour and Tories enjoy mixed night of results in local elections in England
Twitter security fail: Users urged to change passwords after glitch
Stephen Colbert Mocks Giuliani’s Fox News Interview: ‘Rudy, You’re Not Helping!’
Sarah Huckabee Sanders On Michelle Wolf: I Hope She Can Find Happiness
White House warns China on growing militarization in South China Sea
Iran will not ‘renegotiate or add onto’ the nuclear deal, foreign minister says
Motion Picture Academy Expels Bill Cosby And Roman Polanski
Trump shifts story over Michael Cohen payment to Stormy Daniels
In a blistering statement, Camille Cosby says her husband is a victim of mob justice
A look at the 3 Americans detained in North Korea
At least 81 killed by high-intensity dust storms in India
'Empire' Renewed for Season 5 at Fox
Ariana Grande to Open the Billboard Music Awards
Giuliani says Trump repaid lawyer for $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels
White House's top Russia lawyer Ty Cobb departs in latest Trump shake-up
Cambridge Analytica announces closure
US v IRAN: Tehran ordered to pay $6BN to 9/11 families for helping terror attack
Basque group ETA announces it has 'completely dissolved'
Taming the multiverse. Stephen Hawking's final theory about the big bang
Macron Calls Australian PM’s Wife ‘Delicious’
Prince Harry gives British press the cold shoulder ahead of the royal wedding to Meghan Markle
Ariana Grande Takes Over 'The Tonight Show', Announces New Album
Hundreds detained after Paris May Day protests turn violent
Kanye West just said 400 years of slavery was a choice
Trump's ex-doctor claims Trump dictated glowing health letter
Facebook is taking on Tinder with new dating feature
At least 14 members of immigrant caravan allowed to apply for asylum, organizers say
Tony Awards: 'Mean Girls,' 'SpongeBob SquarePants' Top List of Nominations
Ashley Judd discusses her lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein on 'Good Morning America'
Trump slams 'disgraceful' leak of Mueller questions
WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum quits over privacy disagreements with Facebook
Trump: Killing Iran nuclear deal will send 'right message' to North Korea ahead of talks
Late-Night Hosts Defend Michelle Wolf's WHCD Speech
Cardinal George Pell, Vatican Treasurer, Will Stand Trial For Sexual Abuse
Kim Jong Un agrees to meet Donald Trump at DMZ, source says
In meeting with Nigerian president, Trump now says there's 'no place more beautiful'
Ten journalists among 36 killed in Afghanistan attacks
Porn star Stormy Daniels sues Trump for defamation
Netanyahu says he has proof of secret Iranian nuclear program
Trump suggests meeting Kim Jong-un at Peace House on South Korea border
Gloria Allred booed for yelling 'Bill Cosby Guilty!' at Daytime Emmy Awards
Sajid Javid named new UK home secretary after Windrush scandal
Sainsbury's to buy Asda from Walmart for $10.1 billion
World's oldest known spider dies at 43 after a quiet life underground
Kabul: more than 20 dead as explosions hit city centre
White House mystery: Where is Macron’s gifted oak tree?
Missile attack kills 26, mostly Iranians in Syria, report says
NAFTA-linked visas for Canada and Mexico need a closer look before Congress passes NAFTA 2.0
Daytime Emmys: The Winners List
UK home secretary resigns over immigration scandal
Pompeo says US stands with Israelis, Saudis against Iran
Michelle Wolf Debuts First Promo for Netflix Late-Night Show
Celtic seal Scottish Premiership title with 5-0 rampage over Rangers
London elections set to leave British PM May down, but not out
Iran confirms arrest of British-Iranian professor
'Like father like daughter': comedian Michelle Wolf stuns media with attack on White House team
You may soon be able to control your home with a smart wall
North Korea will close nuclear test site in May, South says
Why Bill Cosby may not spend any time in prison
Trump and Merkel tried – and failed – to hide their differences in Washington
Melania Trump 'CANNOT do anything' Brigitte Macron condemns White House security
Pompeo starts Mideast tour with call for new Iran sanctions
Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom meet the Pope, step out together in Rome
Trump 'absolutely' deserves credit on Korean peace talks, Australia's prime minister says
Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2018 FP3 results: Lewis Hamilton pipped by Sebastian Vettel
Alfie Evans dies at Alder Hey hospital after life support withdrawn
Happy Ed Balls Day!
7 students killed in knife attack at Chinese school
Kim Kardashian Breaks Silence On Khloe Cheating Scandal
Russians followed up on Trump Tower meeting after election, Democrats say
Israeli forces kill three Palestinians amid protests along Gaza border
Jason Witten plans to retire from Cowboys, take 'Monday Night Football' job, per report
James Corden Hosts 'Avengers: Infinity War' Cast on Tour Around Los Angeles
Pompeo says Trump likely to leave Iran nuclear agreement
President Trump and Germany's Merkel hold press conference
ABBA return after 35 years with two new songs
Prince Louis: Royals name third child
The summit In pictures: Cheers, applause and tears
Avengers Infinity War spoiler-free REVIEW: Does the Marvel epic live up to the hype?
Colbert Left Speechless By Trump’s Terrible ‘Birthday Present’ For Melania
Trump tweets on 2026 World Cup bid
Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in declare new chapter in Korean relations at high-stakes summit
Trump sounds off on Comey, Cohen, Kanye and more in freewheeling 'Fox & Friends' interview
Donald Trump to meet Queen on UK visit in July
Wisconsin explosion: DOZENS hurt after 'SONIC BOOM' in US city - EVACUATION underway
NASA and ESA Are Getting Serious About Bringing Martian Soil to Earth
Mike Pompeo sworn in as Trump's second secretary of state
Bill Cosby makes outburst in court after guilty verdict
Protests in Spain as five men cleared of teenager's gang rape
Putin’s WARNING to the West: Russia unleashes fearsome Su-30 strikes in chilling threat
Ronny Jackson withdraws as VA secretary nominee
Harry picks Prince William as best man for wedding to Meghan Markle
Shawn Mendes awkwardly consoles rejected man as girlfriend shuts down proposal live on air
Facebook posts record revenues for first quarter despite privacy scandal
Venice to SEGREGATE locals from visitors in a bid of control mass tourism
Trump officials warn of arrests as migrant caravan reaches US border
Late-Night Hosts Pick Apart Kanye West's Pro-Trump Tweets
Kim Jong Un to cross line at DMZ: Here's what will happen
May loses Lords vote on post-Brexit powers for ministers
Bayern Munich 1-2 Real Madrid REACTION: Cristiano Ronaldo blanks in Champions League win
President Trump thanks Kanye West for complimenting him on Twitter
Bradley Cooper to Get American Cinematheque Award Honor
After the hugs and kisses, Macron rips Trumpism
U.S. Supreme Court weighs legality of Trump's travel ban
Russia’s Supreme Court upholds criminal conviction against opposition leader Alexei Navalny
Close