University of Wisconsin–Madison
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What Facebook and Google know about you

Privacy and personal data have been in the news frequently of late, especially in connection with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. While Facebook has become well known for gathering huge amounts of data about users, they are not alone in so doing. Google also harvests bushels of your data, and other social platforms like SnapChat are getting in on the act.

What do these giants of online data gathering know about you? It depends on how you use their services, how you manage your privacy settings on their websites, and which permissions you grant their apps on your devices. If you’d like to see specifically what they know about you, read on.

What Facebook knows

To see everything Facebook knows about you, download your Facebook data here. This data includes:

  • Every text or audio message and every file you’ve ever sent or been sent, via Facebook
  • All the contacts in your phone, if you use the mobile app and grant it access
  • All the audio messages you’ve ever sent or been sent
  • Where you’ve been, assuming you’re using the mobile app, and have granted it permission to access location services, and that location services themselves are enabled
  • Advertisements you’ve clicked
  • Websites and apps you’ve used via your Facebook login

Facebook’s privacy settings control over what they share about you publicly, and not necessarily what data they gather. Manage your Facebook privacy settings here.

What Google knows

Google also knows a great deal about you. You can request an archive of your data using their “Takeout” service here. Depending on how many of their services you’ve used, the amount of data in the download can be truly staggering. It includes:

  • Where you’ve been, assuming you keep “Location Services” enabled on your phone or other mobile device
  • Everything you’ve ever searched for, at least while logged into a Google account
  • Which apps and websites you use, if you’ve granted them access to Google services or logged into them with your Google login
  • What you’ve viewed and searched for on YouTube
  • Your exercise and other fitness data, if you use a fitness tracker that syncs to Google Fit.
  • The contents of your Google drive, including deleted documents and files.
  • Every email you’ve sent, received, deleted or archived in Gmail.

Google’s general privacy settings also focus on what data is shared with others. The settings for individual services, however, offer a degree of control over what data they can gather. These settings are scattered across the various services too numerous to list here, but here are a few to get you started:

Ultimately this is your data, and while its use is beyond your control in many ways, you may still want to exercise what you control you can. To take a deep dive into managing your privacy online, see 35 Ways to Check Your Privacy Settings.

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