Your Gmail account is not a spy tool for Google

Online security and safety is a topic everyone should be thinking about on a regular basis, especially when so much of our online activity is happening through a smartphone. The way we secure our phones, the way our phones are updates to remain secure, and the way the online services we rely on secure the information we share are all important things that deserve regular auditing from users. This isn't a foil hat issue, it's important to be aware of where your data lives and how it is being accessed and used.

Recently we saw a fantastic question pop up in our forums about the way a Gmail address is set up and used, and it's a question that deserves a thorough answer.

Our Note 5 forum recently had a conversation about the contents of your Gmail address, specifically whether you should include your real name when creating a Gmail address. The concern is natural: if you're using your real name online it could make tracking your behavior easier, especially when you attach things like your location, phone number, and in many cases even banking information to that single email address.

This quickly lead to a brief conversation on using fake email addresses or secondary anonymous accounts to gain access to services in order to keep these companies from building a more complete profile on you as a user. It's a legitimate concern to have in general if you're interested in trying to remain anonymous online. Google isn't perfect, and your personal safety should be audited across your Google services just as frequently as anywhere else, but there are a few things about your Google account to keep in mind when discussing your personal security.

Google MyAccount

The first thing to address here is the contents of your email address. Google's services — meaning the parts that collect data — don't actually see the letters that make up words in your email address. When you use your account, Google's services see a separate anonymous alphanumeric identifier. No Google robot is going to see you making purchases and try to sort out what your real name is based on the name you selected. You could use and Google's service still wouldn't try to associate your address with your real name. You can choose to provide more information to your Google account, but it's not a requirement.

Google's services rely on combining keywords from your activity and guessing based on a massive pile of previous actions from millions of other anonymous users.

Because Google assigns a random identifier to the information they track, providing a secondary or fake email address is entirely pointless. In fact, there's a greater chance the cool things Google does with prediction or auto-fill will work noticeably worse for you if you go this route. Google's services rely largely on combining keywords from your activity and guessing based on a massive pile of previous actions from millions of other anonymous users to serve up what you want. When you split that information between multiple accounts, the guesses become less accurate.

It's also important to remember Google is incredibly transparent about all of this. Google's privacy policies are available for anyone to read, and users have a massive amount of control through your account settings to get the exact experience you want from Google. There's no need to deploy stealth tactics to get around imaginary fences here, but it is always a good idea to take a look at what can be done and exercise your right to be safe on the Internet.

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

  • #fightclubreference Posted via the Android Central App
  • You should post this over in iMore... I'll watch the tin foil melt Posted via the Android Central App
  • Haha true !!!
  • Windows Central needs it first to dispel all the conspiracy theories there
  • Right? "I will NEVER get an Android phone. If there are no more Windows Phones, I'll get an iPhone. I don't trust Google!" Posted via the Android Central App
  • smh...yes, Google is out to get you, just you!!
  • What cracks me up is that people think their info is safer with Microsoft or Apple than it is with Google. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Maybe not safer from being hacked but I think it's definitely safer from being passed around like a joint. I've found no evidence of Apple searching my emails so they can send curated ads my way either. My philosophy is, if I'm not on google search... stay the F out my buisness...for any reason!
  • With Google, the experience is tailored around you. As such, you agree in part to provide them with data that is relevant to your needs. It can be eerie and downright creepy, but in the end it's something you agreed to. You can restrict the access services have to your information. Most casual users choose not to because the benefits tend to outweigh the negatives.
  • @hackdroids, perhaps you should read the apple tos and be mortified.
  • Not safe, but read the terms, google drive doesn't pass many business privacy stuff, and a lawyer I know was sued over using a gmail account. I know that the business account acts differently, however, in the end. The lesser of evils is the way to go.
  • I agree. Posted from my Moto X Pure Edition via the Android Central App
  • I definitely trust Apple more than Google. Posted via My Nexus 6 with Marshmallow goodness
  • But but but Rene would never paint a false sense of fear to push Apple products and services on untrue claims, right? That would be misleading, biased, and poor journalism! /s Posted via the Android Central App
  • Rene Ritchie has to be the most annoying, most clueless, and most irritating writer on the internet. And I'm including him with people like Donald Trump. He's more annoying than Donald Trump. That says a lot.
  • I'm guessing you haven't heard of BGR then lol.
  • Yoni is pretty bad too. Posted via the Android Central App
  • God that site is just awful. The spam in comments are awful. Posted via the Android Central App on my Frost Nexus 6P
  • Yeah. I remember going to that site quite often when it was I used to get a lot of my tech news from there. But once the main guy turned fanboy, the site went downhill fast.
  • LMAO
  • I agree. Renee is not someone whose content I enjoy reading. Very smug. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Well...he IS an Apple fan...I mean...have you met those? *shivers*
  • The irony and hypocrisy of Rene criticizing Google datamining:
    Go install a browser extension that blocks analytics, ad trackers and web scripts. Now go surf iMore a bit and discover how many your script blocker shows you are on lol Rene. lol.
  • I like René Richie, you find him annoying because he speaks the truth about great Apple is. Posted via My Nexus 6 with Marshmallow goodness
  • Lot's of x-files thoughts over at crackberry for sure.
  • Google doesnt care about me anymore or less than any other agency looking to sell ads to me and my friends. Having a gmail account just allows the guesses to become quite a bit more accurate.
  • Thank you. That's actually kind of a relief to read, considering all the massive data theft that we've heard about from time to time. However, I still tend to break most of my idle or hobby type searches and pursuits into aliases that I gear toward that interest just to keep from getting ads for insurance or home loans cluttering up my queries. I loathe internet explorer when I have to deal with my Windows phone.
  • They probably allow Stan Kroenke and Jerry Jones to hack gmail accounts. Posted via the Android Central App
  • it's actually funny to read all these tin foil hat wearing forum posts on iMore and Windows Central.
    They act like google is the devil and those same people have facebook, twitter, instagram, and think those companies aren't spying on them....
  • forget facebook and the social networking stuff. Windows 10 is constantly reporting home about all of your usage. There is no opting out if you use windows 10. And its not that they are "evil" either. All three have privacy policies in place that in many ways mirror each other.
  • You use Cortana? Then it reports home. They ALL report home.
  • Seriously. The only response to any of it should be, "Hypocrisy, look it up". :)
  • Crackberry as well. Over there, they are in denial that BlackBerry collects your data, and believe that Google and Android are evil.
  • Take into account that iMore, Windows Central, Crackberry are sister sites, it does add WWE type entertainment value to it.
  • How much did Google pay you, too write this, Russell?
  • Hopefully the same amount that Apple pays Rene at iMore to write FUD articles against Google, Google Services, and Android OEMs to make iPhone look like a mobile savior... Posted via my glorious Nexus 6P
  • Love the Dalek and Serenity background.
  • Summer Glau....mmmmm :)
  • I don't use my Gmail except for Google to email me whenever they charge my account for Play Music or app purchases. Pretty much the only email there. I never sign into Google for searches and always in a "private" window. I don't need Google to "predict" or "auto-fill" anything for me. I can pretty much type what I want rather quickly without help from Google (amazing right?). For me it's more of an annoyance than security issue.. I also turned off Cortana on my PC's as I find it more annoying than helpful.
  • You can turn autofill off in settings. Sony Xperia Z2
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  • If you are not doing anything illegal or very embarrassing (like a sexual fetish site), why do you care if Google knows that you like to shop for cloths at certain stores or that you are an electronics nut and you spend too much time at Best Buy and Fry's electronics? I am not doing anything I shouldn't be doing and if there is an occasion where I feel that a website I am going to visit may label me as a freaky boy, I use my computer and not my smartphone to visit that site and I just ensure my browser is not signed into Google. What you may not realize though is that both Google and Bing associate your search with the external IP address your computer/network is using. So even if you are not logged into either one of these services when you perform a search, that search will be associated with your account because they already know what your external IP address is from the times you have been logged into their site. You can delete individual internet history entries in your internet history via googles dashboard though. You can also simply opt out altogether but that means that Google Now will be useless and it is way to cool and useful to do without.
  • wait for it....wait for it....PERSONAL CHOICE
  • Y'all are funny. Hahah
  • I won't still trust Google if you pay me a billion dollars for it. I use gmail account only to view those YouTube videos which can be viewed only after signing up.
  • I doubt that mate. Google is no different from Google and Microsoft in the regard you hold it Posted via the Android Central App on my Frost Nexus 6P
  • Interesting that a piece like this needed to be written.
  • Haven't you seen all the tinfoil hat types around here? Sony Xperia Z2
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  • Actually Google has helped law enforcement bust people doing "certain things" by scanning emails. Dam It Feels Good To Be A Google Gangster
  • Any email provider can and will do that if provided a warrant.
  • ... Your Gmail account is not a spy tool for Google... yes it is... Google Play Services knows my name, address, credit card number... they are just short of getting my SIN. Of course they spy. They are an AD company...
  • And who do you think gave them that information oh wait you did! How ironic Posted via the Android Central App on my Frost Nexus 6P
  • They may have some of that information but if you look at their privacy policy you'll notice they do not use a lot of it. Sony Xperia Z2
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  • Yeah, how much does Google help out the NSA?
  • Quite a bit
  • I review my entire Google account/life on a regular basis. I check my Gmail, G+, Calendar, YouTube and Chrome settings all the time. Everything is locked down where it needs to be and open and shared in areas I need those guesses to work for me. Been doing this for YEARS without any adverse affect on my life. No foil hat here.
  • I guess I always figured that letting them have my information is how I'm paying for a a ton of services they provide me for "free." Email, calendar, cloud storage, maps and GPS guidance, instant messaging, search, etc. The convenience and productivity my smartphone provides are largely possible because of the services I get from Google. If I had to pay subscriptions for all these services I doubt I could afford it. And after all these years I haven't experienced any detrimental consequences for letting them have it. For me it's been win-win. ...Joe K.
  • +1 Posted via the Android Central App
  • Absolutely agree 100%. I would happily pay a fee for the services I get from Google, It saves me so much time and has got me home when I have been lost more than once!
  • This!! Some people never realize that you don't get something for nothing. I will gladly accept targeted ads for all of these FREE google services that I use on a daily basis!
  • And hey, I've gotten some pretty cool stuff from targeted ads in the past :D
    The thing people don't seem to realise is that ads are meant to show the consumer what they want to buy even if they haven't really considered it yet. It's not like advertisers are making you buy all this different stuff. When it comes down to it, the ads show you something and tell you a bit about it and you decide for yourself whether you want it or not. Advertisers aren't evil. Sony Xperia Z2
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  • You are paying for those services twice. When you bought a phone with access to Google services, the cost of using them was included in the price because Google charges OEMs per device for those services. Google just double dips by data mining you. Regardless of what this article says, the one incontrovertible fact is that you are not Google's customer, you are their product. If advertising, which makes up 90% of Google's revenue, ever becomes a secondary revenue stream, that might change. Until then, Google is selling your traits to advertisers, even though you have already paid them.
  • Exactly and Tim Cook stated that also, but it isn't just Google either, Facebook as well. Posted via My Nexus 6 with Marshmallow goodness
  • I disagree. What is Google getting per device... maybe 10-15 dollars per unit? This is negligible and relates directly to Android development. The subject of this post is Gmail and my references were to all services... Mail, Calendar, cloud storage, mapping & navigation, etc, etc... not specifically related to Android. I see that fee to OEMs as covering Android development only and I still stand by my assertion that the services I receive are worth letting them have some information about me. ...Joe K.
  • What? But the internet told me it was! Are you implying that the internet lied?! Posted via the Android Central App
  • I doubt this will placate the tin-foil hat brigade. They're rather protective of their ignorance making it extremely hard to relieve them of it.
  • How dare you! I always thought because the Internet said it was true it must be true! /s Good article. Posted via the Android Central App on my Frost Nexus 6P
  • I guess they left out my comments from the forum.... i might know what google does or doesn't do since i'm a government contractor in the signals intelligence community....but what do I know......
  • At the risk of sounding like a T-Mobile shill, when you say,
    "It's also important to remember Google is incredibly transparent about all of this. Google's privacy policies are available for anyone to read, and users have a massive amount of control through your account settings to get the exact experience you want..." How do Google's policies on this differ from BingeOn? Seems a bit hypocritical, Russell.
  • 20 years from now and "privacy" will be for the privileged. We live in the digital age where all your information is available to whomever is willing to pay for it. Just because you unchecked a box doesn't mean your information is lost forever. I came from the gutta, now it's all butta
  • the problem is that unless the source to *all* a company software (client AND server) is available you have no way to know if what companies say they do is what they actually do. this is true for google, apple, microsoft or even silent circle, for all that matters. all the transparency in a company policy is actually worthless unless backed by hard facts. the whole NSA-shebang should have made this evident for everyone. this doesn't mean that i believe google is an evil corporation spying on its customers for some kind of illuminati conspiracy, of course.
    but believing that there's no way they could be acting differently from what they're selling the public is kind of naive.
  • Wow! AC is really pushing the Kool-aid. I wonder why? Google is gross. Google is evil. Period. Posted via the Android Central App
  • To be repeated until it becomes "true". Remember folks, as that targetted ad comes through your browser into your gmail account, just remember...... "Your Gmail account is not spying on you. Your Gmail account is not spying on you. Your Gmail account is not spying on you, etc etc etc"
  • It's funny this blog caught my eye whilst I had my gmail open. Was talking on email with my dad about cricket, whilst watching adverts for cricket related items coming into my inbox, no doubt being triggered by a private conversation with my dad. Yep folks, your gmail account isn't spying on you. It just wants to be your friend. Remember......nation states are bad. Corporations are good. Your privacy is unhealthy. Families are bad. Community is evil. You shall be divided, conquered, and spied on. Have I missed anything else about the sick messages that go cascading through this sick culture?
  • I trust Google until the founders leave. After that I will trust them like I trust Facebook. After the original leadership leaves the only thing the middle management will care about is the quarterly numbers. When all it take to get a good quarter is a small change to the privacy policy no one looks at....
  • You have a good point there.
  • It's a moot point. The government already has your profile, real name, address, phone number, everything. Unless it's only in your head and never spoken, written, or posted anywhere. They have been tracking your life for years. Even before the Internet. Advertiser's already know who you are and what you want. Accept the fact and live with it. *"powerful you have become, the dark side I sense in you"*
  • Trust is ubiquitously lacking. That is because each of us needs to admit we have two 'things' going on inside of us. A standard for me and another for everyone else. Wealth has its agenda, ambition, ego, parenthood, empathy, etc, etc. This is just a practical fact to understand. You have predictable levels of control over shared resources. By facing this reality you can move on to choices that make you happier and more effective and useful to others.
    Remember that marketing pays for all this 'free' stuff. Just choose more carefully what you give in exchange.
  • Sure they dont sell your personal data still my hidden email gets spam from sites that i google. I dont fill any forms whit it but still i get spam some how
  • I have been trying to convince the conspiracy theorists that this is how it works for several years now. I can't get through their tin foil hats. Maybe you guys will have better luck. I am still surprised at just how many people are convinced that Google employ's actual human beings to sift through everyone's e-mail and mine data on each individual. I don't even think that is possible. The number of employees that would be required to even try and accomplish something like that would bankrupt Google in a few months.
  • Recognizing trends and behaviors by the powers-that-shouldn't-be that upend the NATURAL sovereignty of the individual does not make one a conspiracy theorist. It makes them a patriot. The terrorists are those in the seat of government and its corporatist warfiteers. The terrorists are those seeking to install the seats of a world government after taking golden parachutes when resigning from corporatist warfiteers who use the UN, NATO, US/UK/Israel as vassals to inventory and control the earth's resources. Your Gmail account is not a spy tool for Google, but it is a spy tool: "... the CIA-NSA-MDDS program was not only partly funding Brin throughout his work with Larry Page developing Google, but that senior US intelligence representatives including a CIA official oversaw the evolution of Google in this pre-launch phase, all the way until the company was ready to be officially founded. Google, then, had been enabled with a “significant” amount of seed-funding and oversight from the Pentagon: namely, the CIA, NSA, and DARPA. ..."
    (source: Google is a fusion of syndicated intelligence community ideologies, academia advocates, Pentagon psyops, and industrialist-managed government information warfare interests - all originating from fractional reservists who are determined to dumb down the 99.99% in favor of making permanent the fiat monetary control for the globalist collectivist .01%. You are not the intended customer of Google's activities; hell you aren't even the product - You are the oiligarchy's target. Most of America has been born into a dumbed down society such that the only hint of intelligence is one's ability to use the CIA-coined term "conspiracy theorist". The supporters of the "conspiracy theorist" conspiracy need to read up on this fiction and understand the purpose and underpinnings of information warfare.