Date
15 August 2018
With a total reach of 30 million to 50 million websites, Google tracks its users whether or not they are logged in. Photo: Bloomberg
With a total reach of 30 million to 50 million websites, Google tracks its users whether or not they are logged in. Photo: Bloomberg

Google collects more data on users than Facebook does: report

After Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, Alphabet-owned Google’s data practices may be under fire next.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Christopher Mims explains how the search engine giant hoovers up user data through apps, web browsing, and almost every measure, and how it uses the data to sell advertising, just like Facebook. The writer asks the public: “Why aren’t we talking about it?”

Amid the looming regulations on tech companies’ data practices, the writer revealed that Google collects users’ personal data more than Facebook does, in terms of the volume of information it gathers, the reach of its tracking, and the time people spend on its sites.

With a total reach of 30 million to 50 million websites, Google Analytics, the company’s data analytics platform, tracks its users whether or not they are logged in. Says the author: “Google allows everyone, whether they have a Google account or not, to opt out of its ad targeting. Yet, like Facebook, it continues to gather your data.”

On Google’s data practices on account users, the writer said that the company has changed its terms of service since 2016, “allowing it to merge its trove of tracking and advertising data with the personally identifiable information from our Google accounts”.

The user’s personal data amassed by the company includes browsing and search history, mobile applications installed, demographics such as age and gender, and more.

Google also works directly with some of the thousands of data brokers in the United States, while the latter can sell this information to insurers, employers and anyone else who might be interested.

“Google, in every respect, collects more data. Google, in every respect, has a much bigger advertising business,” David Chavern, president of News Media Alliance, a newspaper trade association, told Bloomberg in a recent interview.

He called for an industry-wide regulation on the privacy issue, instead of merely focusing on Facebook.

Bloomberg reported that Google’s “DoubleClick” system enables advertisers to target and measure ads, while anonymously combining web-tracking data (from “cookies” that follow users online) with potent Google information including search queries, location history, phone numbers and credit card information.

Besides, the search engine giant is able to use anonymous, encrypted information on about 70 percent of credit and debit card transactions in the US through partnerships with outside firms.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 24

Translation by Ben Ng with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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BN/CG

Hong Kong Economic Journal

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