Why It’s Not a Big Deal That Google (and Facebook) Knows A Lot About You

You’ve heard the rhetoric: Google (or Facebook) knows too much about me! But it’s really not that big of a deal. Your data is safe, it’s not really about “you” anyway, and nothing is being sold.

The current narrative is that tech companies knowing too much about you is bad. But why? Because when anyone that you don’t know personally knows a lot about you, it affects our sense of privacy. We naturally feel violated or generally just “weird” about it—but it’s not like that. Your privacy isn’t being violated.

Why Your Data is Safe with Google and Facebook

Here’s the thing: Google and Facebook do collect your data—your name, birthday, sex, and the like are all a part of what they know about you. Other details, like your search history, where you go, who you communicate with, and so on is also collected (relative to the network, of course), so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s how these services stay alive.

But that in itself is key: these services rely on your data to continue to function. Therefore, it’s paramount that they keep it safe—it’s crucial to their business models (which are surprisingly similar in this regard).

Why is it so important? Because both companies make money from serving you ads. These ads are highly personalized, because that’s the only way they’re going to be effective. Think about it: are you going to click on something that isn’t at all relevant to your interests? Nah.

But by effectively knowing “who you are,” both Google and Facebook are able to generate personalized and relevant ads. Google is an ad company at its core, so keeping your data protected is a key part of its content strategy. Facebook is in a similar boat here—it may not be an ad company per se, but ads are a crucial part of its revenue.

Regardless, neither company has anything to gain by being open with its users’ data, but everything to lose. That’s also why your data is not only protected, secured, and encrypted by both companies—it’s also not for sale.

There’s No Benefit to Selling Your Data

Let’s get this straight right now: neither Google nor Facebook sell your data. It’s not only pertinent that they keep your data safe and secure, but equally as important that they keep it for themselves.

Neither company makes money by selling your data, because that’s a one-time thing—they sell your data, get paid, and that’s it. But if they keep your data, they can make money from companies that want to advertise to you.

There’s actually a great thread about this from a Google employee on Twitter, but here’s the gist: a company wants to advertise to you on Facebook. Instead of offering your information for the company to buy, Facebook instead offers to put that company’s ad in your feed. The company specifies its target audience—which Facebook alone has the data on—and then pays Facebook to serve ads to the audience it wants to see the ad.

The end result works well for both companies: the buyer gets millions of views (or more), and Facebook gets paid, too. As much as you may dislike ads, you’re a winner here too, because the ad you end up seeing is ultimately something in which you’re interested. And, again, your data is safe, secure, and encrypted.

The next time a company wants to advertise to you, the same thing happens. This keep companies coming back to both Google and Facebook for their ad needs, which keeps everyone in business. Google and Facebook make money, the companies seeking advertising get tons of exposure, and you get to access everything Facebook and Google offers without paying a dime.

So yeah, both Google and Facebook have everything to lose from not keeping your data to themselves.

Both Companies are Transparent About What They Do With Your Data

If you’re ever curious what Google or Facebook is doing with your data, you don’t have to look far—both companies offer very detailed, transparent disclosures about that very thing.

Not only that, but both allow you to customize how your data is used, as well as take control over the ad situation. If you’d rather not see personalized ads from Google, you can opt-out. You’ll still see ads, but they won’t pander to your specific needs—they’ll just be generic.

Similarly, Facebook has a good explanation of how it’s ad system works (which we discussed above), as well as a straightforward way to manage your ad preferences.

Your Data is Still Yours

Here’s a crucial piece of information a lot of people tend to forget (or overlook): your data is still yours. You can download everything Google, Facebook, and pretty much every other company has on you. All of your information, everything stored on their servers, etc.

And then, you can remove yourself. You can delete your presence from Google and Facebook (among others). Facebooks says it keeps your data for “a period of time”—up to three months—and then deletes most of it. The company still keeps some of the data, but all personal data is stripped from it.

It’s not completely clear how Google handles this situation, though it’s suggested that it works very similarly. The main reason both companies keep user data for a few weeks after account deletion is simple: in case the user has a change of heart. Within a given time range, you can essentially re-open your deleted account.

After that time has passed, however, everything that made your data yours is gone. You’ll have to start over from scratch.

Ultimately, It Benefits You as Much as It Does Them

When it comes down to it, you’re in a sort of partnership with Google and/or Facebook (or any other company that collects your data). You get to use their services for free, and in turn they collect your data and use it to serve you ads. After all, you can’t expect these companies to stay in business without making money—that’s not how anything works, and the web is no different.

So instead of paying Google or Facebook for its service, you exchange your information. By using the service, you’re agreeing to let them take your data and use it help them make money. But at the same time, you’re also trusting them to do what’s right by you and keep your data safe—this is a crucial part of how these services work, because once that trust is breached, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Not only that, but both companies use this data to improve their services. For example, Google uses your Maps data to improve navigation and traffic data. It also uses your search data to improve suggestions and show accurate results when you make a typo. The list goes on.

This isn’t a one-way street—it’s not just about Google or Facebook “taking” your information. You have to remember what you’re getting in return, and for the most part it’s absolutely invaluable services.

Image Credit: ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock.com

Cameron Summerson is a die-hard Android fan, Chicago Bulls fanatic, metalhead, and cyclist. When he's not pounding keys here at HTG, you can find him spending time with his wife and kids, spinning legs on the bike, chugging away on the 6-string, or being disappointed in the Bulls.