How much do Google and Facebook know about you?

James Ball
April 23, 2012

As Facebook and Google become more and more part of more and more peoples’ lives, concerns keep surfacing about the quantity – and safety – of the data they have on us. This writer tries to find out how much they really know.

To briefly state the obvious, the internet giants are seriously big: Google is not only the world’s largest search engine, it’s one of the top three email providers, a social network, and owner of the Blogger platform and the world’s largest video site, YouTube. Facebook has the social contacts, messages, wallposts and photos of more than 750 million people.

Given that such information could be used to sell us stuff, accessed by government or law enforcement bodies (perhaps without warrants, under legal changes), or – theoretically, at least – picked up by hackers or others, it’s not unreasonable to wonder exactly how much the internet giants know about us…

… Thankfully, Google isn’t totally unhelpful. It has two tools that help show the information it holds on you, which a helpful staffer walked me through. The first, Google Dashboard, has run for about three years and gathers information from almost all of Google’s services in one place. Another feature, the “account activity report”, has launched recently, and shows Google’s information on my logins in the past month, including countries, browsers, platforms and how much I’ve used the services…

… Facebook’s main download tool was familiar, if slightly embarrassing. A downloaded archive that opens into something looking oddly like a stripped-down, uncluttered Facebook, this lists all my friends, every post ever made on my wall, by myself or others (some dating back almost seven years are not comfortable viewing), my private messages and the small number (fewer than 10) of photos I’ve uploaded to the site myself.


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