Over a billion people rely on Google to complete an array of tasks. From crafting a complex spreadsheet to turning off a light, Google is deeply integrated in our personal and professional lives. This union isn’t always a transparent one.

The University of Maryland relies on Google to provide email to staff, faculty, and students. Spotlight investigated what Google may know about you and how you can act to control your privacy while using a UMD email account.

Why does Google want your data, anyway?

Google uses your data for two reasons: to make applications run more efficiently and to connect its users to relevant ads. Google does not sell personal information, it leverages non-personally identifiable information to ensure that advertisers have a well-defined audience.

Google states that users will be asked before any information is used for a purpose outside of their Privacy Policy. The Privacy Policy also requires opt-in consent from a user before sharing sensitive personal information. Domain managers like UMD control and set most of the privacy options.

No government agency has direct or “backdoor” access to user data. Google reviews the data requests made by law enforcement agencies. Some of these requests are shared in Google’s Transparency Report.

What settings should I know about?

UMD G Suite for Education accounts (used by faculty and staff) and TERPmail accounts (used by students) are created with most of Google’s information collecting settings turned off.

There are only two settings enabled by default: Ads Personalization and YouTube Activity.

Ads Personalization and YouTube

Ads Personalization is a schema of hypothesized user interests developed by monitoring your activity in Google Apps and Google Search. This information may be used in an attempt to determine your age and gender.

The only data G Suite for Education automatically logs is YouTube searches and views (logged in My Activity).

My Activity

My Activity serves as a hub for all account activity and settings. For a UMD G Suite for Education account, it captures YouTube video views and searches when signed in. Activity streams are paused or deactivated by default except YouTube activity, which is active even if the setting is listed as “paused.” You can pause Google’s data collection from Activity Controls and delete activity from My Activity.

The Ads Personalization profile for a G Suite for Education account is based solely on these video views and searches. It cannot estimate your age range or gender based on this activity information alone. Web and App activity information is disabled by default by the university. The advertisements you see when logged in to your account will be based on your Ads Personalization profile.


Google’s Timeline is a history of “the places you’ve been and the routes you’ve traveled,” according to their help documentation. This setting is disabled in university accounts by default.

If you allowed Location Services in a Google App after 2010, you may have a Timeline. This information may include your home and work addresses.

How does Google handle security?

Google has multiple security measures in place. The company encrypts user information using HTTPS and Transport Layer Security. Google’s cloud infrastructure is also one of the world’s most fortified, with multiple data centers connected by underwater fiber cables. The company conducts 24/7 threat detection from malware, viruses, and spam.

At UMD, we require staff and faculty to use Duo multi-factor authentication to access their G Suite for Education account and many other online services. TERPmail supports multi-factor authentication through the use of Google’s 2-step verification.

TERPmail uses Google’s  2-step verification instead of UMD’s multi-factor authentication system, because it is technically a personal account, unlike a UMD G Suite for Education account. Google sends a code to your phone through a call, text, or Google app. You can also set up a USB Security Key to plug in for 2-step verification.

What should I do now?

Overall, the university’s agreement with Google severely restricts what the company is allowed to learn about you. Nonetheless, we encourage you to take control of your personal online privacy and manage what you’d like to share.

Check out your Google settings today using the Privacy Checkup. Manage your Timeline and your YouTube search history. The privacy page is also a great place to see your basic information and manage your contacts.

Published On: 
Friday, July 20, 2018