Here's how Google is tracking what you do -- even when you think it's not
Young white woman millennial browses the internet on her computer (Shutterstock)

Google is the world's number one search engine, defining users' online experience across countless platforms. It's also one of the largest digital collectors of private data. A new study shows that Google tracks user information, even when they're not actively submitting data.


Vanderbilt University computer science professor Douglas C. Schmidt details how Google collects information in so-called "passive" ways, such as when an app absorbs information while running in the background.

An example of active collection is when a user types a search word in a tool bar and that query is grabbed by Google. Passive data collection would entail Google finding out the user's physical location after they type a word in a search engine.

"Google learns a great deal about a user’s personal interests during even a single day of typical internet usage," the study concludes. "In an example 'day in the life' scenario, where a real user with a new Google account and an Android phone (with new SIM card) goes through her daily routine, Google collected data at numerous activity touchpoints, such as user location, routes taken, items purchased, and music listened to," Schmidt writes.

"Surprisingly, Google collected or inferred over two-thirds of the information through passive means. At the end of the day, Google identified user interests with remarkable accuracy."

The study notes that both Android and Chrome send data to Google even when they're not actively being used. Chrome also apparently keeps track of webpage visits and gives Google a user's location.

Google told the Washington Post that they dispute the findings, citing a conflict of interest.

“This report is commissioned by a professional DC lobbyist group, and written by a witness for Oracle in their ongoing copyright litigation with Google. So, it’s no surprise that it contains wildly misleading information,” the company said.

Recently, the Associated Press reported that Google tracks users' location even if they've turned on the appropriate privacy settings.