The Data Big Tech Companies Have On You

By
&
Aliza VigdermanGabe TurnerChief Editor
Last Updated on Jul 9, 2020

These days, checking a box saying that you have read and understood a website’s privacy policy is about as legitimate as a Kylie Lip Kit-knockoff sold on the side of the road. Most likely, you don’t have a legal background to actually understand the privacy policy, and no one has the time, patience, or energy to try to parse what data websites are storing and how they’re using it to their advantage.

Fortunately, I read the privacy policies of Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple, and Google to find out the data big tech companies have on you. The results might surprise you.

Our Findings

As far as logging the most of your data goes, the prize goes to Google, which isn’t surprising as their entire business is based on data. The best company for your privacy is Apple, which only keeps the data needed to uphold your account.

Twitter and Facebook both keep more information than they have to, although with Facebook, it’s mostly the data you’ve entered yourself. Amazon lies directly beneath Apple in terms of privacy. In my opinion, that’s because their site isn’t as dependent on advertising revenue as Google, Facebook, and Twitter.

Let’s take a closer look at each company and the data of yours that they collect. I’ll also go into why they say they collect this information and their policies for sharing it with third parties.

Google Data Collection

Google

Grade: F

We use Google so often that it’s almost hard to think of as a set of products and services. Personally, I think of it more like a way of life, a tool that has an impact on nearly all of my daily decisions, like which subway I should take to get to work the fastest, what’s the best place to get my boots repaired, or even what a random woman I went to college with is doing at this very second.

Whether it’s Gmail, where I send all my emails, or Google Maps, which I am completely dependent on to know where I am, Google has a myriad of ways of collecting your data and collect your data they do.

Information They Collect

Out of all the companies on this list, Google collects and stores most of your information by far. That’s not surprising, as their business model relies on knowing as much data as possible (and making it super easy for you to access). However, the company keeps a ton of data on you, the searcher, as well as the world at large. From your precise location to your browsing history, from your activity on third-party sites or apps to the emails in your Gmail account, if it’s data, there’s a good chance that Google is collecting it.

Personal Information

Namedata is collected
Usernamedata not collected
Passworddata not collected
Phone Numberdata is collected
Payment Informationdata is collected
Addressdata not collected
Social Security Numberdata not collected
Driver’s license numberdata not collected
Email Addressdata is collected
Emails You Write and Receivedata is collected
Stored Videos and Photosdata is collected
Meatadata of photos and filesdata not collected
Stored documentsdata is collected
Stored spreadsheetsdata is collected
Youtube commentsdata is collected
Contact Info from devicesdata not collected

Google collects your IP address, crash reports, system activity, date, time, and referrer URL of your requests, data about interactions between apps, browser and device type, application version number, app usage, carrier name, and operating system.

Unique Identifiers

IP addressdata is collected
Crash reportsdata not collected
System Activitydata is collected
Date, time and referrer URL of requestsdata is collected
Data about interactions between appsdata is collected
Browser typedata is collected
Device typedata is collected
Application version numberdata is collected
Carrier namedata is collected
Operating systemdata is collected

They also collect your name, phone number, payment information if you’ve made any purchases through Google, email address, emails you write and receive, your stored videos, photos, documents, and spreadsheets, and your comments on Youtube.

Activity

Search Termsdata is collected
Networks/ Connectionsdata not collected
Messagesdata not collected
Contentdata not collected
Videos Watcheddata is collected
Views and Interactions with Conte and Adsdata is collected
Video and Audio Information If Audio Features Are Useddata is collected
Time, Frequency and Duration of Activitydata is collected
Purchase Activitydata is collected
Reviewsdata not collected
People You Communicate/ Share Content Withdata is collected
Activity on Third-Party Sites and Appsdata is collected
Browsing Historydata is collected
Calling-Party Numberdata is collected
Receiving Party Numberdata is collected
Forwarding Numbersdata is collected
Times and Dates and Calls of Textdata is collected
Call Durationdata is collected
Routing Informationdata is collected
Types of Callsdata is collected
Privacy Settingsdata not collected

Google keeps track of your search terms, videos watch, views, and interactions with content and ads, plus your video and audio information if these features were used. They’ll also keep track of your purchase activity, and, if a third-party site uses Google services, your activity on those sites or apps. They’ll also keep track of your browsing history if you use a Chrome browser synced with a Google account. Finally, if you’ve used Google to make calls or text, then they’ve also collected the calling and receiving party numbers, forwarding numbers, times and dates of your calls and texts, call durations, routing information, and types of calls.

Location Information

Time Zonedata not collected
GPSdata is collected
Sensor Data From Devicedata is collected
Information About Things Near Device (i.e Wi-Fi Access Points, Cell Towers, Bluetooth-enabled Devices, etc.)data is collected

As far as location goes, Google keeps track of your via GPS, sensor data from your device, and information about things near your device like Wi-Fi access points, cell towers, or Bluetooth-enabled devices.

Publicly Accessible Sources

Local Newspapersdata is collected
Third Party Marketing Partnersdata is collected
Advertisersdata is collected
Credit History From Credit Bureausdata not collected

Google may obtain your information from you from local newspapers, third party marketing partners, or advertisers.

Why They Say They Collect Your Data

Aside from maintaining your services, Google collects your data to personalize ads and content (although this isn’t done based on your race, religion, health or sexual orientation by law). Google also uses your data to measure the performance of ads, sharing the data with advertisers so they can create ads that are even more effective.

Third-Party Sharing Policies

Students or anyone who uses Gmail for work, listen up: Google is sharing your information with your domain administrator, so leave the irreverent G-chats on incognito. Google also shares your data with a bunch of third parties like advertisers, publishers, and developers, although this information isn’t identifiable. However, Google does give their partners a ton of leeway, allowing them to collect data from your browser and device using cookies.

Facebook Data Collection

Facebook

Grade: C

Recently, Facebook has gotten a bad rap, and it’s pretty clear why, need I mention the Cambridge Analytica scandal of 2018. What started out as a “hot or not” app has evolved into a “safer” form of social media, combining the social aspects of Myspace with those emails filled with tales of girls being whisked away to marry foreign princes. Although the platform is on the decline, they still have 2.37 billion active users monthly with a revenue of over $60 billion in 2019 alone, according to Social Media Today. So, what sort of data does the company collect on over 72% of North Americans? Well, I read the privacy policy so you don’t have to.

Information They Collect

Since Facebook is a purely social app, they know a ton about their users personally, from the people you interact with to the groups you’re in, and even your “private” messages (or so you thought). Facebook knows exactly when you log on, for how long you’re logged in, and what comments, shares, and transactions you’ve made in that time.

Personal Information

Namedata is collected
Usernamedata not collected
Passworddata not collected
Phone Numberdata is collected
Payment Informationdata is collected
Addressdata not collected
Social Security Numberdata not collected
Driver’s license numberdata not collected
Email Addressdata is collected
Emails You Write and Receivedata not collected
Stored Videos and Photosdata is collected
Meatadata of photos and filesdata is collected
Stored documentsdata not collected
Stored spreadsheetsdata not collected
Youtube commentsdata not collected
Contact Info from devicesdata not collected

Facebook is a wealth of personal information, most of which you enter yourself. The company keeps your name, phone number, payment information, email address, contact info from devices, as well as your stored videos and photos. Plus, they’ll keep the metadata of your photos and files.

Unique Identifiers

IP addressdata is collected
Crash reportsdata not collected
System Activitydata not collected
Date, time and referrer URL of requestsdata not collected
Data about interactions between appsdata not collected
Browser typedata not collected
Device typedata not collected
Application version numberdata not collected
Carrier namedata not collected
Operating systemdata not collected

The only unique identifiers that Facebook keeps is your IP address, easy to cover up with a VPN.

Activity

Search Termsdata not collected
Networks/ Connectionsdata is collected
Messagesdata is collected
Contentdata is collected
Videos Watcheddata is collected
Views and Interactions with Conte and Adsdata is collected
Video and Audio Information If Audio Features Are Useddata not collected
Time, Frequency and Duration of Activitydata is collected
Purchase Activitydata not collected
Reviewsdata not collected
People You Communicate/ Share Content Withdata is collected
Activity on Third-Party Sites and Appsdata not collected
Browsing Historydata not collected
Calling-Party Numberdata not collected
Receiving Party Numberdata not collected
Forwarding Numbersdata not collected
Times and Dates and Calls of Textdata not collected
Call Durationdata not collected
Routing Informationdata not collected
Types of Callsdata not collected
Privacy Settingsdata not collected

In terms of activity, Facebook keeps track of your connections and networks, messages, content, and videos watched, along with how you interact with different content and advertisements. They know exactly when you use their site and for how long are log the people you share content or communicate with.

Location Information

Time Zonedata not collected
GPSdata not collected
Sensor Data From Devicedata is collected
Information About Things Near Device (i.e Wi-Fi Access Points, Cell Towers, Bluetooth-enabled Devices, etc.)data not collected

To figure out your location, Facebook uses sensor data from your device.

Publicly Accessible Sources

Local Newspapersdata not collected
Third Party Marketing Partnersdata not collected
Advertisersdata not collected
Credit History From Credit Bureausdata not collected

Facebook doesn’t find data about you through publicly accessible sources, as they have all the data they need entered by users themselves.

Why They Say They Collect Your Data

What does Facebook do with the data of billions of people? Well, the company claims they use it to personalize and improve their own products, like suggesting groups you might be interested in, showing you businesses nearby your current location, or presenting you with, you guessed it, highly-targeted ads. Ever wondered why that concert you just looked up shows up everywhere you look on Facebook? That’s why. I do have to give the company some credit, though, as they do sometimes use their data for good, like to learn about migration patterns during crises to help relief efforts. See, not all big data is used for evil!

Third-Party Sharing Policies

Facebook makes the majority of its money through its advertisers, so of course, they provide them with a ton of your data, aggregated so businesses can easily see the demographics of their customers and would-be customers. So while they can’t see a list of exactly who clicked on their ad, they can see that a woman, aged 24, who lives in California, interacted with it, for example. Facebook also provides data to researchers and academics, as well as law enforcement agencies, if requested.

Amazon Data Collection

Amazon

Grade: B-

What is there to say about Amazon that hasn’t been said about a fictional monopolizing corporation in a dystopian novel about a near-future? The biggest e-commerce web site in the country and one of the largest businesses in the world, to say Amazon has disrupted retail would be like saying that the Model T disrupted the horse and buggy. And Amazon isn’t just selling you products and services; they’re also collecting your data, selling it to their third-party marketplace sellers like Starbucks, OfficeMax, Verizon, and Eddie Bauer. Let’s take a closer look.

Information They Collect

Aside from obvious data like the products you search for and order, the videos you’ve watched, your wish lists, product reviews, phone number, address, and more, Amazon also keeps track of your IP address, browser type, and other automatic information. If you’re on mobile, they’ll see exactly where you’re located, as well as collecting your data from your mobile carrier, third parties, and your credit history cleaned from the credit bureaus. And if you’re wondering if that last piece of information is used to customize your product search results or even change pricing, then that is something we have in common.

Personal Information

Namedata is collected
Usernamedata is collected
Passworddata is collected
Phone Numberdata is collected
Payment Informationdata is collected
Addressdata is collected
Social Security Numberdata is collected
Driver’s license numberdata is collected
Email Addressdata is collected
Emails You Write and Receivedata not collected
Stored Videos and Photosdata not collected
Meatadata of photos and filesdata not collected
Stored documentsdata not collected
Stored spreadsheetsdata not collected
Youtube commentsdata not collected
Contact Info from devicesdata not collected

Amazon knows your name, if you give it to them, your username, password, phone number, payment information, shipping address, and email. These are all pretty standard and necessary for Amazon’s services, but I was surprised to find that they also have your social security and driver’s license numbers, as well.

Unique Identifiers

IP addressdata is collected
Crash reportsdata not collected
System Activitydata not collected
Date, time and referrer URL of requestsdata not collected
Data about interactions between appsdata not collected
Browser typedata is collected
Device typedata not collected
Application version numberdata not collected
Carrier namedata not collected
Operating systemdata is collected

Amazon logs your IP address, browser type, and operating system, which is pretty minimal compared to the other companies in this article.

Activity

Search Termsdata is collected
Networks/ Connectionsdata not collected
Messagesdata not collected
Contentdata not collected
Videos Watcheddata is collected
Views and Interactions with Conte and Adsdata not collected
Video and Audio Information If Audio Features Are Useddata not collected
Time, Frequency and Duration of Activitydata not collected
Purchase Activitydata is collected
Reviewsdata is collected
People You Communicate/ Share Content Withdata not collected
Activity on Third-Party Sites and Appsdata not collected
Browsing Historydata is collected
Calling-Party Numberdata not collected
Receiving Party Numberdata not collected
Forwarding Numbersdata not collected
Times and Dates and Calls of Textdata not collected
Call Durationdata not collected
Routing Informationdata not collected
Types of Callsdata not collected
Privacy Settingsdata not collected

Amazon logs your search terms, the videos you’ve watched on Prime, your purchase activity, any reviews you’ve written, and your browsing history. Since Amazon is an e-commerce site and not a search engine or social media platform, they don’t need to log as much of your activity data, as the website isn’t dependent on advertisement revenue.

Location Information

Time Zonedata not collected
GPSdata is collected
Sensor Data From Devicedata is collected
Information About Things Near Device (i.e Wi-Fi Access Points, Cell Towers, Bluetooth-enabled Devices, etc.)data not collected

That being said, they are aware of your location via GPS and sensor data from your device.

Publicly Accessible Sources

Local Newspapersdata not collected
Third Party Marketing Partnersdata is collected
Advertisersdata is collected
Credit History From Credit Bureausdata is collected

To fill in the blanks, Amazon sources data from third-party marketing partners, advertisers, and even your credit history from credit bureaus.

Why They Say They Collect Your Data

Amazon makes its money pretty differently from social media companies like Facebook and Twitter, or even search engines like Google. The reason why Amazon is so profitable is because the actual purchase occurs on their platform, providing the majority of their revenue as opposed to money from advertisers. So as far as why they say they collect your data, it’s pretty simple— to improve their services and to prevent fraud. Amazon’s privacy policy is by far the shortest of any of the companies on this list, but with devices that are literally listening to your every move, this seems a bit over-simplified.

Third Party Sharing Policies

Since Amazon works with millions of Marketplace sellers, your information is shared with many third parties, from service providers like delivery men and marketing assistants to companies they co-brand products with like AT&T, Sprint, and Northern Tool + Equipment. And while Amazon might send you promotional offers on behalf of other businesses, they don’t give them your name and address, and you can opt-out if you would like to. Basically, if it involves information going to third parties, Amazon lets you opt-out.

Apple Data Collection

Apple

Grade: A+

Apple is known as the best large tech company for privacy, and their policy definitely confirmed that. And that’s fortunate because I frankly can’t imagine my life without their products. From working on my 2011 MacBook Pro to playing on my iPhone 8+, Apple’s products are as user-friendly as they are expensive. However, considering how much time I spend staring at their HD screens per day, I was pretty pleased with how little information they collect about you, especially when compared to the other companies on this list. Like Amazon, Apple isn’t as dependent on your personal information for revenue, as they’re selling pretty expensive hardware. Let’s see exactly what they keep and what stays private.

Information They Collect

Apple collects your personal information like your name, email address, IP address, location, and payment information. They also keep track of obvious things like your language, zip code, search queries (although they won’t be associated with your IP address), and how you use their devices and apps.

Personal Information

Namedata is collected
Usernamedata not collected
Passworddata not collected
Phone Numberdata is collected
Payment Informationdata is collected
Addressdata is collected
Social Security Numberdata not collected
Driver’s license numberdata not collected
Email Addressdata not collected
Emails You Write and Receivedata is collected
Stored Videos and Photosdata not collected
Meatadata of photos and filesdata not collected
Stored documentsdata not collected
Stored spreadsheetsdata not collected
Youtube commentsdata not collected
Contact Info from devicesdata not collected

As far as your personal information goes, Apple doesn’t keep much aside from your name, phone number, payment information, shipping address and email, all necessary to uphold your account.

Unique Identifiers

IP addressdata is collected
Crash reportsdata not collected
System Activitydata not collected
Date, time and referrer URL of requestsdata not collected
Data about interactions between appsdata not collected
Browser typedata not collected
Device typedata is collected
Application version numberdata not collected
Carrier namedata not collected
Operating systemdata is collected

Apple knows your IP address, device type, and operating system, which makes sense as they’ve manufactured the device itself.

Activity

Search Termsdata is collected
Networks/ Connectionsdata not collected
Messagesdata not collected
Contentdata not collected
Videos Watcheddata not collected
Views and Interactions with Conte and Adsdata not collected
Video and Audio Information If Audio Features Are Useddata not collected
Time, Frequency and Duration of Activitydata is collected
Purchase Activitydata not collected
Reviewsdata not collected
People You Communicate/ Share Content Withdata not collected
Activity on Third-Party Sites and Appsdata not collected
Browsing Historydata not collected
Calling-Party Numberdata not collected
Receiving Party Numberdata not collected
Forwarding Numbersdata not collected
Times and Dates and Calls of Textdata not collected
Call Durationdata not collected
Routing Informationdata not collected
Types of Callsdata not collected
Privacy Settingsdata not collected

Apple stores by far the least amount of your activity data, logging only your search terms and the time, frequency, and duration of your activity.

Location Information

Time Zonedata is collected
GPSdata is collected
Sensor Data From Devicedata not collected
Information About Things Near Device (i.e Wi-Fi Access Points, Cell Towers, Bluetooth-enabled Devices, etc.)data not collected

They’ll also know your Time Zone for the clock as well as GPS information from your device.

Publicly Accessible Sources

Local Newspapersdata not collected
Third Party Marketing Partnersdata not collected
Advertisersdata not collected
Credit History From Credit Bureausdata not collected

Apple is the only of these large tech companies to not source any information about you from publicly accessible sources.

Why They Say They Collect Your Data

Apple collects your data to improve their products, services, content, and ads, to keep your account secure, to authorize users, prevent fraud, and if you apply to work at Apple, to evaluate you, which is something I hadn’t seen on any other privacy policy.

Third-Party Sharing Policies

Apple emphasizes that your personal information will never get “shared with third parties for marketing purposes,” which is a total breath of fresh air in a city of smog. Rather, Apple shares your data with customer service, delivery people, or any matter of legal necessity or public importance. Although Apple certainly isn’t a perfect company by any means, their lack of data-sharing makes me feel better about spending thousands on their products when I can get a nearly identical device for a fraction of the cost. Yay, capitalism!

Twitter Data Collection

Twitter

Grade: C-

Just like life, Twitter is what you make it. While I use it to follow comedians, Bravolebrities, and the occasional journalist, some people use it to promote their businesses, livestream sports games, or harass movie stars. Whatever you use it for, here’s how much of your data Twitter keeps, and what they do with it after.

Information They Collect

Aside from your basic account information, location information, and privacy settings, Twitter also collects your direct messages and private communications, cookies, and the content you view on third-party websites. However, they’ll never associate your web browsing history with any information that can identify you, and the data is deleted after a maximum of 30 days. A small caveat: if you’re on a browser that Twitter thinks is in the European Union or European Free Trade Association, this may not be the case, so watch out, Europeans!

Personal Information

Namedata is collected
Usernamedata is collected
Passworddata is collected
Phone Numberdata is collected
Payment Informationdata not collected
Addressdata not collected
Social Security Numberdata not collected
Driver’s license numberdata not collected
Email Addressdata not collected
Emails You Write and Receivedata is collected
Stored Videos and Photosdata not collected
Meatadata of photos and filesdata not collected
Stored documentsdata not collected
Stored spreadsheetsdata not collected
Youtube commentsdata not collected
Contact Info from devicesdata not collected

They’re pretty lax on personal information, keeping only your name, username, password, phone number, and email address.

Unique Identifiers

IP addressdata is collected
Crash reportsdata not collected
System Activitydata not collected
Date, time and referrer URL of requestsdata not collected
Data about interactions between appsdata not collected
Browser typedata is collected
Device typedata is collected
Application version numberdata not collected
Carrier namedata is collected
Operating systemdata is collected

Twitter logs many unique identifiers including your IP address, browser and device type, carrier name, and operating system.

Activity

Search Termsdata not collected
Networks/ Connectionsdata not collected
Messagesdata is collected
Contentdata is collected
Videos Watcheddata is collected
Views and Interactions with Conte and Adsdata is collected
Video and Audio Information If Audio Features Are Useddata is collected
Time, Frequency and Duration of Activitydata is collected
Purchase Activitydata not collected
Reviewsdata not collected
People You Communicate/ Share Content Withdata is collected
Activity on Third-Party Sites and Appsdata is collected
Browsing Historydata is collected
Calling-Party Numberdata not collected
Receiving Party Numberdata not collected
Forwarding Numbersdata not collected
Times and Dates and Calls of Textdata not collected
Call Durationdata not collected
Routing Informationdata not collected
Types of Callsdata not collected
Privacy Settingsdata is collected

In terms of your activity, Twitter keeps track of your messages, content, the videos you’ve watched, your views and interactions with content and ads, plus video and audio information, if audio features are used. They’ll keep track of the time, frequency, and duration of your activity on Twitter as well as the people you communicate and share content with.

Now, many people may be surprised to know that Twitter tracks your activity on third-party sites and apps along with your browsing history, although the latter is never associated with any identifying information. Again, as long as you’re not in the European Union or a state in the European Free Trade Association, Twitter will delete your browsing history data after a maximum of 30 days. Twitter also keeps track of your privacy settings, which is a good thing if not a little bit ironic.

Location Information

Time Zonedata is collected
GPSdata is collected
Sensor Data From Devicedata not collected
Information About Things Near Device (i.e Wi-Fi Access Points, Cell Towers, Bluetooth-enabled Devices, etc.)data not collected

Twitter logs the time zone you’re in as well as GPS information from your phone.

Publicly Accessible Sources

Local Newspapersdata not collected
Third Party Marketing Partnersdata is collected
Advertisersdata is collected
Credit History From Credit Bureausdata not collected

Finally, Twitter logs your data from third-party marketing partners and advertisers.

Why They Say They Collect Your Data

According to Twitter, they collect your data to scan for malicious content and spam, verify that you are who you say you are, help you find people to follow, protect the integrity of the platform and guess which topics you might like to create some personalized ads. Now, if you’ve been staying up to date with your Twitter news, you might be shocked to learn that Twitter looks for “malicious content and spam”, especially with the array of white supremacists and Russian bots that populate Twitter’s feed. But hey, maybe it would be 10 times worse if Twitter paid no attention at all!

Third-Party Sharing Policies

Of course, Twitter shares your data with advertisers, service providers, law enforcement, and the government, if necessary. When it comes to advertisers, you can control which device identifiers they can see as well as your interests and characteristics. However, your name, phone number, Twitter username, and email won’t be shared with advertisers, which is nice because I’ve never heard anyone say “I wish I got more emails”.

Recap

It’s safe to assume that if you’re using a device that uses the Internet, then you’re producing data, and that data isn’t just floating around in cyberspace. Rather, it’s being monetized by the company that made the device and the companies that they sell your data to. But with privacy concerns becoming more public, companies are giving you more opportunities to opt-out of data collection and sharing, and they’re starting to write their privacy policies in more accessible language. So while I can’t say that I’m thrilled with how much every move is being monetized, when it comes to big data, I choose to be cautiously optimistic.

FAQs

  • Can companies sell your data?

    Companies can sell your data. To see their third party sharing policies, make sure to reach the company’s privacy policy.

  • How do tech companies collect data and personal information?

    Much of the data and personal information that tech companies collect comes from the user directly, like entering your name, email address, and phone number on your Facebook page. Companies also collect data from your device’s unique identifiers, your activity on third-party sites and applications, GPS, sensor data from your device, and information about things near your device like cell towers, Bluetooth-enabled devices, and Wi-Fi access points. Finally, companies get personal data from publicly accessible sources like local newspapers, third party marketing partners, and advertisers and in some cases, credit bureaus.

  • Which company has the most data?

    Google keeps the most data when compared to Facebook, Amazon, Twitter and Apple.