Google Doesn’t ‘Sell’ Your Data, But it Does Profit From It

People are often concerned that Google, a big tech giant and probably the largest data collector out there, is selling on their data to interested parties. This idea is what drives a lot of people to seek data privacy and put measures in place to stop Google from collecting data.

Google doesn’t ‘sell’ your data or personal information in the traditional sense. However, you can argue that Google does sell your data in theory because this information is what makes them money. We explore this concept in more detail in this article.

What does Google say about the claim that they sell data?

Google have stated the following: “We do not sell your personal information to anyone. We use data to serve you relevant ads in Google products, on partner websites and in mobile apps. While these ads help fund our services and make them free for everyone, your personal information is not for sale.”

Why could you make the case that Google does sell data?

You could argue that Google sells data simply because their business model involves profiting from personal information. The most profitable part of their business by far is their advertising service, and this is successful because of the way Google collects and uses data.

Google Ads works through an auction system. The top position advert will generally go to the highest bidder (provided they have a high-quality landing page that is relevant to the search term). The costs of targeting different keywords will vary depending on the industry but this is the process that makes Google their money.

In return for the money advertisers spend with Google, their service allows them to not only target specific search terms but also specific groups of people with demographic targeting. You can see how Google’s demographic targeting works here, as explained by them.

Most websites have Google Analytics installed. That pop-up you often see when you first visit a website about collecting cookies? That’s the website owner collecting information about you which they can then use as part of their marketing strategy and future ‘remarketing’ adverts. However, this information also goes back to Google so they can use it to build specific audience profiles for advertisers.

Google is also heavily involved in real-time bidding (RTB), a bidding process which occurs on third-party websites. When a user visits a website that runs Google-based ads, this triggers a bid request that can include various pieces of data such as the user’s demographic information, browsing history and location.

The request goes from the publisher to an ad exchange, which submits it and the accompanying data to multiple advertisers who automatically submit bids to place their ads. The slot goes to the highest bidder and their ad is served on the page. Google controls a lot of networks involved in this process, including DoubleClick and AdMob.

In simple terms, Google is constantly sharing personal information as a part of their business model so that advertisers will send them money in order to run highly targeted adverts. It is easy to see how many would consider this an act of selling data!

Moreover, to illustrate just how much money Google makes from personal information (and Google Ads is their main source of revenue), their 2019 annual profit was $89.961 billion and their total revenue was $161.857 billion.

This is all despite efforts from authorities to regulate this kind of behaviour by digital giants. In the US, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) went into effect on January 1, 2020. One of its biggest effects is to regulate the sale of data: under the law, any exchange of personal information for “valuable consideration” is, with some exceptions, a “sale.” However, Google still claims it doesn’t sell data and therefore believes it is exempt from laws like these, even though they monetize the information they collect.

Related article: Google’s Data Collection Practices: The Scary Truth

Do all search engines make money from our personal information?

It’s important to keep in mind that most search engines do need advertising in order to run because they offer users a free service. However, Google has become something of an unstoppable monster in terms of just how much money it makes from a business model which revolves around personal information! They profit from data on a huge scale.

Charity search engines are not profiting from this process in the same way that Google is. Instead, they use any money they make from advertising for social good by donating to charitable projects.

If the actions of Google alarm you, consider using a charity search engine like SearchScene. We do not profit from selling or monetizing data in the same way, as we donate 95% of our profits to a selection of charities with a focus on fighting climate change.

This article first appeared on Medium.