We’re constantly on the internet throughout the course of a day — scrolling through Instagram, obsessively checking emails and reading news on Twitter — causing these companies to collect a great amount of data on ourselves and our habits.
Facebook is the largest social network in the world without a doubt, while Twitter has a smaller subset amount of users. Google knows a lot about us too — and arguably more than Facebook — because it serves us ads, allows us to watch videos, knows what we’ve purchased and even what our voice sounds like, depending on what settings and products you have set up.
All these companies hold a massive trove of our data and use it to serve ads and tailor their services to our interests, but it’s difficult to tell how much information these companies actually have on us. Luckily it’s easy to access the info these companies have on you (though it’s unclear whether this is all of it or whether there is more that is not downloadable).
It’s arguable that Google knows a lot more about people than Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other companies do — the company has dozens of products from Search, YouTube, Gmail, Photos, Translate and Assistant, to name a few — but because Facebook has been in the news so much recently, it’s easy to forget this.
While the data Google collects on you depends on which privacy settings you have enabled, it matters to a larger extent what physical products you own. The majority of Google’s products consist of software, but it also has created the likes of Chromecast, Google Home, Chromebooks and more. With all this information — allowing Google to hold a 38.2 percent portion of the ad revenue spending market in the US in 2018 — it’s easily able to gather and utilize large amounts of data to flip a profit.
In all, the Big G collects a lot of information, including:
Voice clips when you use an applicable feature (ie. Google Home or voice search in the Google app)
Your shopping history (ie. to track flights and shipping packages)
Activity on third-party websites that use Google services
Location information including GPS data and IP addresses
But it’s important to note that:
Google can collect info on people, even when they’re not logged in
It doesn’t collect data from Google Drive for enterprise customers, internet usage from its WiFi routers and no longer scans the content of emails
There’s been a lot of scandals going around Facebook recently — from the leaked UK gov documents to revelations the company has been sharing data with third-parties — and the company’s vast awareness of online movements might cause concern for some.
Facebook has a lot of information on users from current location, call history to how you interact with websites that have the “Like” and “Share” buttons or Facebook Pixel, among hundreds of other data points. Due to an inquiry from the British Parliament, we know that in the week leading up to April 16, 2018, there were 8.4 million Like buttons, 931,000 websites using the Share button across 275 million webpages and 2.2 million Facebook Pixels installed.
Logging into a service or app with Facebook is the easiest way to sign up for something — no messy passwords or usernames to remember! — but it means that you’re giving the company further access to your data.
Information is available for the company to collect from the moment you begin creating an account to when you interact with Facebook or its Messenger service, but can also be collected when you’re not directly on Facebook.com:
Basic information like name, birthday, schools, occupations, relationship status and more, when you create or update your profile
Where and when you check-in and your location, even if this isn’t enabled (using an IP address)
Pages, accounts, hashtags and more that you follow or interact with, including for how long
Your contacts, call history and text message history if you allow the company permission to this information
Purchases made on and off the platform
What you look like, from both your own and friend’s images
Furthermore, Facebook collects information from:
Messenger, where info such as who and how long you contact people is collected from
Info from third-party websites via the Facebook Pixel
The company says it can “receive information about your online and offline actions and purchases from third-party data providers”
Developers can integrate with the Facebook Login service (iOS, Android, web and smart TV) which gives Facebook access to more information
The company insists it doesn’t monitor phone calls or record people via microphone unless they’ve opted to allow the company to.
The underdog social network, Twitter, also collects a lot of data on its users,, both on and off the platform. It doesn’t get as much bad flak as other internet giants — it thankfully hasn’t had any major data breaches — but it still collects a lot of information on its users.
Twitter collects information that includes:
Where and how you use the service (ie. the apps you use to Tweet and location of where they come from)
Data from outside sources that use its API (ie. websites using embedded timeline or the Tweet button
Whether you’re included in a “tailored audience” list — essentially when an advertiser uploads their email list to better target users
A few other things to note:
Twitter used to keep information from third-parties for 10 days, but now keeps it for 30
It has a list of your interests — a lot of the time they’re wildly off