This article starts with a chain of events that intrigued me to dig a little deeper into what happened and when I did I was shocked with what I found out.
It all started when I was talking with a friend about going over to berlin to the Mary Jane Cannabis show. I was chatting away at a friends house about berlin and the Mary Show I was telling him how cool it was and that its coming up in a few weeks and I was still undecided whether I was going or not. Fast forward an hour and I’m on my way home. PING. My phone goes and it’s an email about cheap flights to Berlin! I was stoned, so I thought it was just one of those crazy things that tend to happen when your stoned. The very next day I’m talking with my partner about getting her the new iphone, she hadn’t got a contract phone and my contract still had over a year on it, fast forward 2 hours this time and….PING it’s a email about….yep you got it a great deal on the new iphone!!!
Was Google listening to me? Spying on me? Well I thought I need to look in to this, so I did and I’m not alone. These are very common questions that are currently garnering an awful lot of social commentary and attention at this present time, so what’s the deal? I looked into it and this is what I found.
Technology and the way we communicate changes so rapidly these days, that many of us aren’t aware that we now do things that give away a lot of information about what we do, without us even knowing that we are doing it! I mean who actually reads the terms and conditions these days? Well any days for that matter? One good analogy is to think of Google as a huge information sponge that is just soaking in, categorising and cataloguing all our likes, dislikes, wants, needs and desires every time we go online. Now this may not concern you in the slightest, if you have nothing to hide, but for some this endemic privacy intrusion is concerning for many reasons. For example did you know that in the terms of having a Facebook account you pretty much give up all of your rights? They can access you phone or device anytime they wish!!! Which also includes the camera, the microphone, your contacts, your photos everything…….and to top that off any picture or image you post they technically own the rights to that as well! Can you see where I am going with this? The question most of us reading this now will ask is, does Google know you Grow?
If you use Google, they will have a full history of everything you have ever searched for via their search engine, watched on YouTube, and access to every email you’ve ever sent or received on Gmail, and more. This is a worry too many Growers for a multitude of reasons. Perhaps you do not wish to have adverts “popping up” on your device, especially if other people are using them, advertising nutrient feeds or grow tents every 5 minutes and bringing unwanted attention to the fact that you Grow. Maybe growing cannabis is still illegal in the region/country where you live and so and you are suspicious of who and what information could be passed around and what the ramifications of that could be.
It’s likely you are very careful about telling other people, even some friends that you Grow, yet you are inadvertently sharing everything with your search engine whenever you search for information, ask questions, or do some online hydroponic shopping! So how are Google doing this? How are they making a digital profile on you? And making money from It?!! And what if anything can you do to take back a bit of the power and keep your online life private?
The uncomfortable truth is that we actually willingly hand over all our information to Google freely. By creating such powerful, useful and convenient online tools, they have got us all hooked. The fact that it is free to use makes its even more popular as who is not going to use it when its free?!! But the reality of it is that there is a cost. Officially Google’s stance is that the information that they collect is used, to profile you for better advertising targeting, which is their bread and butter when it comes to income. Maybe they are not interested in the fact that you are Growing …but there still remains the possibility that they could be, and the question of what they could do with that information?! They sell it! That’s what they do and the more information the have on you, the better and more precise that information is, the more money they get.
SO what do you do if you want to try and “hide” yourself from Google’s all seeing eye of Sauron?
Well, one thing is for sure, It’s not as simple as just trying to boycott Google, as their trackers have been found on more than 75% of the top million websites on the internet. This means your individual data is being collected wherever your digital footprint goes. If your online, there is literally nowhere to hide.
Even if you tend to shy away from online shopping and instead visit physical stores, Google Location Services on your phone/tablet or other devices can be gathering information on you without you even knowing. Google Maps can track your movements throughout the day even if you don’t use it as your Sat-nav. They may know your home address, work address and regular commute route as well as any other places you visit regularly, such as anywhere that you may be Growing. They know the distance you’ve travelled in a day (by car or foot) what stores you spend your money in, how often and how long you spend there. The holidays you go on and even the people you hang out with. This is why annoyingly, it is possible that if you have spent time physically visiting hydroponic stores and purposely avoided going online, that you may still find that you are seeing an unusually high number of ads for hydroponic equipment whenever you go online! They can even cross reference that with other people that visit the same location. It is all starting to sound abit 1984 George Orwell isn’t it?
Before you delete your Google history however, think about it carefully, as the collating of your information actually does work to your benefit in most situations, improving your over all user experience online and tailoring what you see and what is suggested to you. In Google’s defence they do also promise to keep all your data safe when recalling it between devices and guarantee that their cloud servers are protected. They also claim to not allow governments “direct access” or “backdoor access” to any of your information as stated in their public transparency report , which is worth a read if you have any concerns.
If you still don’t trust them or want to remove yourself from their servers permanently then it is possible to an extent. The first stage is to login into your Google account (Yes you need a Google account in order to remove yourself from Google, alarm bells!) and go to the “Your Data” page where you will see information such as your name, email address, birthday, gender, phone number, and country. The rest of the data collected is based on what things you like, ads you click on, your location, device information, IP address, and cookie data. You are able to download all of this data, including photos, emails, contacts, bookmarks. To block Google from collecting data you should go to the “Ads Settings” section of your Google account and turn “Ad personalisation” off.
To remove what they have already got stored about you, click on “My activity” where you will be able to view everything that Google has collated about your internet user history. You can select all the data or just the data from a specific time period and then hit the “delete activity” button. If you do this however you should also make sure you stop using Google altogether, delete all Gmail and Youtube accounts and anything else Google affiliated so that the information does not build back up again. There are alternative Search Engines out there that promise to never track you or store your information. Is that 100% correct? Well when you read the terms it’s a little bit more complicated then that. Replacing your Smart phone with a simpler model from times gone by is another good way to cut down on any stealth GPS and location tracking that may be occurring through any phone Apps.
VPNs or Virtual Private Networks, are another great way to keep companies like Google from tracking you online. There are many VPN’s available so be sure to check what they provide in terms of protection as not all of them are able to keep your data 100% safe but at the least they will protect some critical elements secure such as your IP address. A really effective VPN can also encrypt your internet traffic and make your browsing history private. To ensure a VPN works efficiently you will also have to refrain from logging in to any google affiliated service if you want to specifically prevent them from collecting your browser information.
Proxies are a slightly different option to protect your online life. A proxy server acts as a gateway between you and the internet. It’s an intermediary server separating end users from the websites they browse and providing varying levels of functionality, security, and privacy.
We are living in a world where technology has become so sophisticated and indispensable that it positively enhances our day2day lives in almost every way imaginable. With the positive however comes the negative and that means that your every move online can be tracked, collated and put into a spreadsheet for the use of corporate businesses to determine what ads you see and what suggestions you receive. Ohhh and to sell that information to who ever they deem fit.
This can be of more of a worry if you have a hobby such as Growing which you would prefer to not shout about from the rooftops. This Orwellian “Big Brother” surveillance society that we are living in is not a complete inevitability however and hopefully we have now made you aware of some of the things you can do to take back the power and keep your privacy intact.
Does Google know you grow? 100%
YES they do.
A grow enthusiast before anything else, Rich Hamilton has over 20 years professional experience within the hydroponics industry. Rich is a widely published freelance author, specialising on all things Grow, from techniques and science to the latest business and market news from around the world. To further widen his media scope Rich has recently started “the Hydrochronicle” podcast which is a laidback conversational style pod cast featuring guests from all walks of the the Grow lifestyle. Available now on apple podcasts www.thehydrochronicle.com.