With all eyes on Facebook reeling in the aftermath of its own data scandal, nobody is paying attention to Google and the vast amount of data it collects on its users. The company, with products in search, video sharing, social media, maps, photo storage and more holds a lot of data about its users, including the locations of where they've been and how they got there.
Though it might seem odd that Google isn't receiving more media attention about this, it makes sense because generally, people trust Google more than Facebook. Google search, for instance, is a gateway for people to tell the company intimate details about their lives, like health conditions or other personal questions.
Google can't possibly be happy with what happened to Facebook because now it will face more scrutiny in the future, alongside having to comply with the EU's new regulations. This isn't good news for a company that is primarily in the business of using consumer's data to serve them ads, collecting any and all data it can find on the web for both logged-in and non-users. You can't really escape Google because like Facebook, it still collects data — though less than logged-in users — about you.
Luckily Google isn't dealing with a PR crisis of its own right now, which is generally why people aren't pointing out the massive amount of data it collects. Plus unlike Facebook, Google hasn't had any issues with user privacy and breaches in the past (the company had previously scanned Gmail inboxes to target ads, but has since stopped).
The reason it's scary how much data Google has on its users is because it makes a large portion of the population vulnerable to exploitation in case, say a company like Cambridge Analytica, wants to steal some data on millions of users. The possibilities if someone gets their hands on such a large amount of data are endless and terrifying when it's combined together.
There are companies out there with the sole purpose of creating profiles on internet users to do things like serve ads and target products at them, and by signing up for services online without reading the terms of service, we're just giving our information away.
Data is very valuable to companies — Facebook, for instance, made an average of $5 in revenue for each user worldwide, but in the US and Canada this rose to $21.20 — and the more data companies have, the more money they can make.
We need to be much more aware of what is happening when we sign away our rights in the terms of service, including a better, easier-to-understand explanation of what actually happens to our data. It seems like common sense to read the ToS, but the majority of people don't. This is where websites like Terms of Service; Didn't Read come in, simplifying these lengthly documents so people can understand them.
The next thing that needs to happen is stronger regulation on how companies gather, store and share our data. Companies collect millions of data points each day and this is innocent, but when the data is taken and combined with other stolen or bought data, then it becomes an issue.
In the EU the new GDPR laws are a great step in the right direction of how to prevent exploitation by large companies, spelling out large fines and penalties for companies who put people's privacy in jeopardy. Facebook is implementing the new restrictions worldwide, but won't say what it will look like and if it will be the same as how strict the laws are in Europe.
Conversations about how we give out our data and how companies are using it need to begin happening, because the first step to forming a foundation of how these companies are legally allowed to run in the future is to understand how they run today.