What Search Engines Know About You

    Search engines, like Google or Bing, are how most people interact with the internet, whether it’s to find a new destination to visit for their next vacation or an online casino (like the list of sweepstakes ones here).

    Many of us know that search engines collect data about us with every search, but few realize just how much data is collected. If you find yourself asking, “What do search engines know about me?” you’ll find insight here. First, we’ll look at when data is collected (which may surprise you) and why it’s collected to help give context to how search engines know so much.

    When Is Data Collected?

    Data can be collected whenever you use a search engine, not just Google. Search engines, including Yahoo!, AOL, and Bing, also collect data. While using these search tools without an account offers some limitations on the type of data these companies can collect, they still gather some. 

    Once you sign up for a free account, like Gmail or a Yahoo! email, your online activities become a data goldmine. With a free account, you’re freely giving personal information and agreeing to the websites’ terms and conditions and privacy policies, which, let’s be honest, none of us read. 

    When we agree to these policies, we’ve agreed that more than just our search queries will be tracked — so will our time on other services from the company. This means when you use anything associated with this free account, like reading an article on Google News or Yahoo! News, they can start collecting data on the things that pique your interest (and more).

    Why Is Data Collected?

    Most search engines focus on the fact that collecting your personal information can create a better experience for you. The focus of a better experience isn’t just about tailoring search results to your location but also has to do with factors like what language content will be presented in and what ads you’ll see. This personalized experience explains why you’ll notice ads that feel directly targeted at you while scrolling through websites or social media; it’s because they are. 

    Search engines also collect this information to track their performance as a company. It tells them where there’s an opportunity for new features or services and how to improve the usability of current offers. The information will also be shared with affiliated parties or partner platforms, which could be as simple as identifying search trends or more complex, like performance details on ads.

    What Data Is Collected?

    Now for the question we’ve been waiting for: what do search engines actually know about us? Across search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo! where you’ve signed up for accounts, they know:

    • Your name, age, and gender
    • Where you live
    • Your phone number
    • Your IP address
    • Your different device IDs
    • What you search for
    • What language(s) you speak
    • What you upload or post to your account
    • What emails you’ve sent or received
    • Where you are while using company services (or their affiliated third parties)
    • What websites and ads you click on
    • What videos you watch
    • Activities outside their services (depending on cookies and what affiliated partners you interact with)
    • What website or app you used before using their services, and where you go after using them
    • What accounts you’ve created with your Gmail or Yahoo! email (and the information collected through these new accounts)

    These search engines are also more aware of other online activities if you use their affiliated browsers, like Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge. This means that Google and Microsoft (which owns Bing and Yahoo!) could also know your browsing history, which consists of every website you visit, what you do there, and how long you spend there. If you use Google Assistant, Google also has voice recordings from after and a few seconds before you say, “Hey, Google.”

    Once you visit the privacy policy pages for these different search engine providers, you can see that they’re very transparent about collecting so many details about our habits and activities. However, it should be noted that they also don’t advertise it.

    Controlling Your Data

    The list above shows that these companies collect a massive amount of information about us. It can understandably lead to concerns about privacy and the security of your information. Thankfully, there are things you can do to limit how much data is collected and how long it’s stored.

    Update Your Privacy Settings

    If you’re wondering what information a search engine has about you, you can find it within your account’s settings. For the information that isn’t essential for the services you use from these providers, you can make adjustments to what you’ll allow these companies to track by going into your privacy settings. Often, you’ll find a list of the types of information collected and options to opt out.

    Delete Your Data

    You must completely delete your account to delete your existing data from search engines. You can find the option to do this in your account settings.

    Use Alternative Search Engines

    Other search engine providers, including Startpage and Qwant, are significantly less data-oriented. However, even those who claim they don’t track your use of them have faced scrutiny and criticism for not being entirely transparent about their tracking. 

    Most notable is DuckDuckGo, even though the first few lines of their privacy policy page state, “We don’t track you. That’s our privacy policy in a nutshell.” So, you’ll want to be sure you do your homework on an alternative search option before using it.


    Search engines might make our lives infinitely easier and better in many ways, but they come with a catch: the collection of your personal information. Unless you’ve taken the time to read through the privacy policy of your search engine of preference, you’ll be shocked at how much information is collected about you — and the knowledge may just change your mind about signing up for that Gmail account.

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