Tech Mysteries: How Did My Computer Know …?

We’ve all had the how did it know?! moment when using technology. Perhaps you opened a restaurant review website and it listed restaurants near your office without asking for an address. Or maybe you spent a few minutes shopping online for a new coffee table, and now every site you visit seems to have advertisements for coffee tables.

Much of this can be attributed to a single source: Google. As a company that derives the vast majority of its revenue from advertising, Google has a vested interest in collecting, tracking and analyzing as much information as possible about you and the world around you. Users provide most of this information willingly, if not eagerly, by using Google’s email services, document tools, search engine, RSS feed reader, apps and much more.

Google combines this information with other readily available data, like IP addresses and Wi-Fi network statistics, to craft advertisements and services geared specifically to you. While Google is the best-known company doing this, it certainly isn’t alone.

Many of the sites you visit every day track your activities and the information you enter.

How do you prevent it? Disabling “cookies” in your browser will help, as many websites use cookies to track their visitors. Unfortunately, disabling cookies may mean losing some functionality. If you’re a heavy Google user, take some time to review Google’s privacy policies so you understand exactly what information it collects and how the data will be used. You can also access your personal Google Dashboard to make some direct adjustments to your privacy settings. The same can be said of all sites that request your personal information: Always review the privacy policies and take the time to adjust privacy settings as appropriate.

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