Research Indicates Zoom Is Being Targeted By Cybercriminals

With many people working from home due to coronavirus, research by Check Point indicates that cyber-criminals may be targeting the video conferencing app ‘Zoom’.

Domains

Cybersecurity company ‘Check Point’ reports witnessing a major increase in new domain registrations in the last few weeks where the domain name includes the word ‘Zoom’.  According to a recent report on Check Point’s blog, more than 1700 new domains have been registered since the beginning of the year with 25 per cent of them being registered over the past week. Check Point’s research indicates that 4 per cent of these recently registered domains have “suspicious characteristics”, such as the word ‘Zoom’.

Concern In The U.S.

The huge rise in Zoom’s user numbers, particularly in the U.S. has also led New York’s Attorney General, Letitia James, to ask Zoom whether it has reviewed its security measures recently, and to suggest to Zoom that it may have been relatively slow at addressing issues in the past.

Not Just Zoom

Check Point has warned that Zoom is not the only app that’s being targeted at the moment as new phishing websites have been launched to pass themselves off as every leading communications application.  For example, the official classroom.google.com website has been impersonated by googloclassroom.com and googieclassroom.com.

Malicious Files Too

Check Point also reports detecting malicious files with names related to the popular apps and platforms being used by remote workers during the coronavirus lockdown.  For example, malicious file names observed include zoom-us-zoom_##########.exe” and “microsoft-teams_V#mu#D_##########.exe” (# is used here to represent digits). Once these files are run, InstallCore PUA is loaded onto the victim’s computer.  InstallCore PUA is a program that can be used by cyber-criminals to install other malicious programs on a victim’s computer.

Suggestions

Some ways that users can protect their computers/devices, networks and businesses from these types of threats, as suggested by Check Point, include being extra cautious with emails and files from unfamiliar senders, not opening attachments or clicking on links in emails (phishing scams), and by paying close attention to the spelling of domains, email addresses and spelling errors in emails/on websites.  Check Point also suggests Googling the company you’re looking for to find their official website rather than just clicking on a link in an email, which could redirect to a fake (phishing) site.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This research highlights how cyber-criminals are always quick to capitalise on situations where people have been adversely affected by unusual events and where they know people are in unfamiliar territory.  In this case, people are also divided geographically and are trying to cope with many situations at the same time, may be a little distracted, and may be less vigilant than normal.

The message to businesses is that the evidence from security companies that are tracking the behaviour of cyber-criminals is that extra vigilance is now needed and that all employees need to be very careful, particularly in how they deal with emails from unknown sources, or from apparently known sources offering convincing reasons and incentives to click on links or download files. 

Tech Tip – Taking Care of Your Laptop

Here are some tips for keeping your laptop battery in good condition and the screen nice and clean:

The Battery

– Avoid using the laptop in very hot places and avoid causing the laptop to overheat, as this can drain more power from the battery.

– Avoid draining the battery completely before charging it again.

– Check the power settings and learn which battery settings to enable.

– Make sure your laptop’s hibernation feature happens before the battery is drained and during downtime.

– Check which (unnecessary) apps are running in the background and stop them from doing so.  With Windows 10, this can be helped by enabling the ‘Battery Saver’.

– With MacBooks, consider enabling Power Nap and automatic graphics switching.

The Screen

To keep the screen of your laptop clean without damaging it:

– Use a microfibre cloth (not a paper towel or tissue), and preferably one that’s suitable for lens or glasses cleaning. You could also use a soft duster.

– Shut the laptop down first (so you can see the dust), press gently when cleaning and wipe in one direction.

Featured Article – Microsoft Teams User Numbers Up By 12 Million In A Week

Microsoft’s collaborative working platform ‘Teams’ is reported to have seen a massive 12 million user boost in one week as a result of remote-working through the coronavirus outbreak, and through Microsoft making the platform generally available through Office 365 from March 14.

What Is Teams?

Teams, announced in November 2016 and launched by Microsoft in 2017, is a platform designed to help collaborative working and combines features such as workplace chat, meetings, notes, and attachments. Described by Microsoft as a “complete chat and online meetings solution”, it normally integrates with the company’s Office 365 subscription office productivity suite. In July 2018, Microsoft introduced a free, basic features version of Teams which did not require an Office 365 account, in order to increase user numbers and tempt users away from competitor ‘Slack’.

Microsoft Teams is also the replacement for Skype for Business Online, the support for which will end on 31 July 2021, and all-new Microsoft 365 customers have been getting Microsoft Teams by default from 1 September 2019.

March 14

Microsoft Corp. announced on March 14 that Microsoft Teams would be generally available in Office 365 for business customers in 181 markets and 19 languages.

Increased To 44 Million Users

The move to make Teams generally available to businesses with Office 365, coupled with a mass move to remote working as a result of COVID-19 has resulted in 12 million new users joining the platform in a week, bringing users up from 32 million on 11 March to 44 million users a week later.  The number is likely to have increased significantly again since 18 March.

What Does Teams Offer?

Microsoft Teams offers threaded chat capabilities which Microsoft describes as “a modern conversations experience”, and built-in Office 365 apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, SharePoint and Power BI.  Also, Teams offers users ad-hoc (and scheduled) voice and video meetings and has security and compliance capabilities built-in as it supports global standards, including SOC 1, SOC 2, EU Model Clauses, ISO27001 and HIPAA. Users are also able to benefit from the fact that workspaces can be customised for each team using tabs, connectors and bots from third-party partners and Microsoft tools e.g. Microsoft Planner and Visual Studio Team Services. Microsoft says that more than 150 integrations are available or coming soon to Teams.

New Features

Microsoft reports that it has added more than 100 new features to Teams since November 2019.  These include an enhanced meeting experience (with scheduling), mobile audio calling, video calling on Android (coming soon to iOS), and email integration.  Teams has also benefited from improvements to accessibility with support for screen readers, high contrast and keyboard-only navigation.

Walkie-Talkie Phone

In January, Microsoft announced that it was adding a “push-to-talk experience” to Teams that turns employee or company-owned smartphones and tablets into walkie-talkies.  The Walkie Talkie feature, which can be accessed in private preview in the first half of this year and will be available in the Teams mobile app, offers clear, instant and secure voice communication over the cloud. 

Competition

There are, of course, other services in competition with Microsoft Teams. Slack, for example, is a cloud-based set of proprietary team collaboration tools and services.  Slack enables users (communities, groups, or teams) to join through a URL or invitation sent by a team admin or owner.  Although Slack was intended to be an organisational communication tool, it has morphed into a community platform i.e. it is a business technology that has crossed over into personal use. 

That said, Slack reported in October last year that it had 12 million daily active users, which was a 2 million increase since January 2019. 

Slack has stickiness and strong user engagement which help to attract businesses that want to get into using workstream collaboration software but, it faces challenges such as convincing big businesses that it is not just a chat app and that it is a worthy, paid-for alternative to its more well-known competitors like Microsoft’s Teams.

Like Teams, Slack has just introduced new features and has experienced a surge of growth in just over a month. 

Another competitor to Microsoft’s Teams is Zoom, which is a platform for video and audio conferencing, chat, and webinars that is often used alongside Google’s G Suite and Slack.  It has been reported that Zoom is now top of the free downloaded apps in Apple’s app store, and Learnbonds.com reports that downloads for Zoom increased by 1,270 per cent between February 22 and March 22.

Real-Life Example – Teams

A real-life example from Microsoft of how Teams is being put to good use is by bicycle and cycling gear company Trek Bicycle.  Microsoft reports how Teams has become the project hub for the company where all staff know where to find the latest documents, notes, tasks relating to team conversations thereby making Teams a central part of the company’s “get-things-done-fast culture.”

Looking Forward

Many businesses are already using and gaining advantages from the speed and scope of communication, project context, and convenience of a cloud-based, accessible hub offered by collaborative working platforms like Teams.  The decision to make Teams generally available with Office 365 for business can only make the platform more popular and the need for companies to quickly set-up effective remote working has stimulated the market for these services and given users a crash-course in and a strong reminder of their strengths and benefits. 

The hope by Microsoft and other collaborative working platform providers is that companies will go on using the platforms long after they technically need to in order to deal with COVID19 lockdown and that they will decide to use them going forward to keep improving the flexibility and productivity of their businesses, compete with other companies that are getting the best from them, and guard against excessive damage to the business from any future lockdown situations.

Viruses Killed By Robots

Robots armed with UV-C ultraviolet light beams that can effectively disinfect surfaces in a hospital room in 10-20 minutes are helping in the fight against COVID-19.

UVD Robots, Denmark

The robots, which are reported to have been shipped in considerable numbers to Wuhan in China, Asia, and parts of Europe are manufactured in Denmark’s third-largest city, Odense, by the UVD Robots company.  The manufacturers say that if used as part of a regular cleaning cycle, they could prevent and reduce the spread of infectious diseases, viruses, bacteria, as well as other types of harmful organic microorganisms.

Breaks Down DNA

These smart robots, which look a little like a printer on wheels with several light-sabres arranged vertically in a circle on top, can autonomously clean traces of viruses from a room by ‘burning’ them from surfaces using UV-Wavelength: 254NM (UV-C light) in a way that breaks down the DNA-structure of the virus.

Research and Testing

The UVD robots are the product of 6 years research, design, development, and testing by leading, reputable organisation Blue Ocean Robotics, and the Danish Healthcare Authority (supported by leading microbiologists and hygiene specialists from Odense University Hospital).

How?

The Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) method of disinfection, which has been in accepted use since the mid-20th century, involves using short-wavelength ultraviolet (UV-C) to disrupt the DNA of microorganisms so that they can no longer carry out cellular functions.

Features

The features of UVD’s cleaning robots include 360-degree disinfection coverage, a 3-hour battery charge, and software and sensor-based safety features.  The operating time per charge for the UV module is 2-2.5 hours (equal to 9-10 rooms).  It is claimed that these units can kill up to 99.99 per cent of bacteria.

HAIs

The primary purpose of the robots is to help and improve quality of care for hospitals and healthcare facilities around the world by providing an effective, low human risk, 24-hour available way to eradicate the kind of Hospital Acquired Infections (HAIs) which affect millions of patients (and kill several thousand) each year.

The COVID-19 outbreak which has led to many healthcare environments being overwhelmed with large numbers of patients has, therefore, made the need for this kind of cleaning/disinfecting system seem very attractive.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Now, more than ever in living memory, having a device that can simply, automatically, quickly and effectively get on with the cleaning of hospital rooms on-demand, without worrying about infection (as may be the case for human cleaners), and without putting more human resource demands on hospitals must be invaluable, and would account for the increase in orders internationally. Devices like these show how a combination of technologies can be combined to create real value and tackle a problem in an effective way that could benefit all of us.

Facebook Video Quality Reduced To Cope With Demand

Facebook and Instagram have reduced the quality of videos shared on their platforms in Europe as demand for streaming has increased due to self-isolation.

Lower Bitrate, Looks Similar

The announcement by Facebook that a lowering of the bit-rates for videos on Facebook and Instagram in Europe highlights the need to reduce network congestion, free-up more bandwidth, and make sure that users stay connected at a time where demand is reaching very high levels because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The move could have a significant positive impact when you consider that Facebook has around 300 million daily users in Europe alone, and streaming video can account for as much as 60% of traffic on fixed and mobile networks.

Although a reduction in bit-rates for videos will, technically, reduce the quality, the likelihood is that the change will be virtually imperceptible to most users.

Many Other Platforms

Facebook is certainly not the only platform taking this step as Amazon, Apple TV+, Disney+ and Netflix have also made similar announcements.  For example, Netflix is reducing its back video bit rates while still claiming to allow customers to get HD and Ultra HD content (with lower image quality),  and Amazon Prime Video has started to reduce its streaming bitrates as has Apple’s streaming service.

Google’s YouTube is also switching all traffic in the EU to standard definition by default.

BT Say UK Networks Have The Capacity

BT’s Chief Technology and Information Officer, Howard Watson, has announced that the UK’s advanced digital economy means that it has overbuilt its networks to compensate for HD streaming content and that the UK’s fixed broadband network core has been built with the extra ‘headroom’ to support evening peaks of network traffic that high-bandwidth applications create. Mr Watson has also pointed out that since people started to work from home more this month, there has been a weekday daytime traffic increase of 35-60 per cent compared with similar days on the fixed network, peaking at 7.5Tb/s, which is still only half the average evening peak, and far short of the 17.5 Tb/s that the network is known to be able to handle.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For Amazon, Apple TV, Netflix, Facebook and others platforms, they are clearly facing a challenge to their service delivery in Europe but have been quick to take a step that will at least mean that there’s enough bandwidth for their services to be delivered with the trade-off being a fall in the level of viewing quality for customers.  Many customers, however, are likely not to be too critical about the move, given the many other big changes that have been made to their lives as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak and the attempts to reduce its impact.  Netflix has even pointed out the extra benefit that its European viewers are likely to use 25 per cent less data when watching films as a result of the bit rate changes. However, with online streaming services being one of the main pleasures that many people feel they have left to enjoy safely, the change in bit rate should be OK as long as the picture quality isn’t drastically reduced to the point of annoyance and distraction.

Cybercriminals Take Advantage of Covid-19 Outbreak With Phishing Emails

Some cybercriminals have already taken advantage of the fear surrounding the Covid-19 outbreak by sending out phishing emails that promise cures, seek donations, or heighten panic in order to extract personal data and money.

Phishing For Fear

Cybercriminals rely on exploiting human error that’s often driven by emotional responses.  The coronavirus outbreak has, therefore, provided scammers with a near-perfect opportunity to exploit the heightened the level of fear and to offer things that will take that fear and panic away as a motivation for a person to click on a link.  Clicking on a link in a phishing email, however, means having malicious software loaded onto your device that can allow cybercriminals to take control of your computer, log keystrokes, gain access to your personal information and financial data (for theft and identity theft), or simply direct you to a payment page.

Examples

Examples of the kinds of corona-virus related phishing emails which have been spotted over the last couple of weeks, and could be coming to an inbox near you, include:

– As reported by Proofpoint, an email purporting to be from a doctor offering details of a vaccine cure that’s been kept secret by the Chinese and UK governments.  Clicking on the link promises access to the vaccine cure details.

– Workplace policy emails that target employees in a specific company/organisation and encourage them to click on a link that will take them to their company’s Disease Management Policy.  Clicking on the link will, in fact, download malicious software that can provide a way into the company network.

– As reported by Mimecast, using the promise of a tax refund for coronavirus, directing the target to click on a link to input all their financial and tax information and with the lure of gaining access to (bogus) funds.

– Asking for donations for a fake campaign to fund the fast development of a Covid-19 vaccine.  In this scam, the victim is directed to a bitcoin payment page.

– As reported by Proofpoint, an email purporting to be from the World Health Organization (WHO) that offers a fake document with information about preventing the spread of coronavirus, where clicking on the link actually leads to the downloading of keylogging software (criminals can track your keystrokes to uncover passwords).

– Emails that exploit feelings of panic, such as an email that claims that Covid-19 has become airborne and asks the target to click on a link to a fake Microsoft login page.

Spotting Phishing Emails

Many phishing emails have giveaways that you can spot if you know what you’re looking for.  Examples of ways in which you can identify a phishing email include:

– Online requests for personal and financial information e.g. from government agencies are very unlikely to be sent by email from legitimate sources.

– Beware of generic greetings. Scammers are less likely to use your name to personalise the email greeting and title.

– Mistakes in spelling and grammar can be signs of scam emails.

– Check the email address by hovering your mouse (without clicking!) over the link in the email. This can quickly reveal if the email is genuine.

– Beware of heavy emotional appeals that urge you to act immediately.  These are signs of scam emails that hope to bypass your reasoning and tap into an emotional response.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Scammers often use phishing emails when there is/has been a recent crisis, when there’s been fraud/cybercrime that’s affected lots of people, or on other such events to take advantage of those who are looking for help and answers.  Scammers know that where emotions are strong and where they can tap into that by offering relief from negative feelings and by saying what people want to hear, they are more likely to achieve their aims.

In the case of coronavirus, although companies and organisations are issuing statements related to it, the best advice is to simply check the information that is given out through trusted, official sites such as the NHS https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/, the World Health Organisation https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus, and via trusted TV and radio stations.

Crisis or not, always exercise caution when you receive emails from unknown or unusual sources and remember that government agencies and financial institutions don’t send out emails asking for personal and financial information.

Companies also need to alert employees, many of whom may soon be working from home and may have a reduced ability to quickly ask the boss or manager about certain emails, to the threat of phishing emails with a Covid-19 theme and to the threat of social engineering attacks that could take advantage of a physically divided and reduced workforce.

Surge In Demand For Teleconference Apps and Platforms That Enable Home Working

The need for people to work from home during the Covid-19 outbreak is reported to have led to a huge increase in the downloads of business teleconferencing apps and in the use of popular cloud-based services like G Suite.

Surge In Downloads

Downloads of remote and collaborative working and communication apps such as Tencent Conference (https://intl.cloud.tencent.com/), WeChat Work (from China), Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack are reported to have risen by a massive fivefold since the beginning of the year, driven by the effects of the Covid-19 outbreak.

For example, services such as Rumii (a VR platform, normally $14.99 per month) and Spatial, which enable users to digital meetings in virtual rooms with 3D versions of their co-workers have seen a boost in the number of users, as has video communications app zoom.

Freemium Versions

Even though many of these apps have seen a surge in user numbers which could see users continuing to use them and recommending them in future if their experiences of the apps are good, the ‘freemium’ versions (the basic program for free and advanced features must be paid for) appear to account for most downloads.

Some companies, such as Rumii, have now started to offer services for free after noticing a rise in the number of downloads as Covid-19 spread in the United States.

G Suite

Google’s cloud-based G Suite service (Gmail, Docs, Drive, Hangouts, Sheets, Slides, Keep, Forms, Sites) is reported to have gone past the two billion monthly active users mark at the end of last year. It appears to have gained many active users due to people preparing to work from home following the Covid-19 outbreak.

Google has also offered parts of its enterprise service e.g. Hangouts Meet (video conferencing) for free to help businesses during the period when many employees will need to work from home.

Microsoft

Microsoft is also reported to be offering a free six-month trial for its collaborative working platform ‘Teams’, which surpassed the 20 million active user mark back in November.

Unfortunately, Microsoft Teams suffered a reported two-hour outage across Europe on Monday, just as many employees tried to log in as part of their first experience of working at home in what some commentators are now calling the new “post-office” era.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Cloud-based, collaborative and remote working and communications platforms are now providing a vital mitigating lifeline to many businesses and workers at the start of what is likely to be a difficult, disruptive, dangerous and stressful time.  Companies that can get the best out of these cloud-based tools, especially if they can be used effectively on a smartphone, may have a better chance of helping their businesses survive a global threat. Also, the fact that many companies and employees are forced to seek out and use cloud-based apps and platforms like these could see them continuing to make good use of them when the initial crisis is over and we could be witnessing the trigger of a longer-term change in working towards a post-office era where businesses make sure they can last out the effects of future similar threats.

Apple Announces The Closure Of All Stores Outside China Until March 27

Apple has announced that due to the global spread of COVID-19, it will be closing all of its retail stores outside of Greater China until March 27.

Flexible Working

A statement on the Apple website (Newsroom) highlighted how Apple is adopting “flexible work arrangements worldwide outside of Greater China”.

Apple also said that those staff members whose work still requires them to be on-site will be following guidance to maximize interpersonal space.  Also, the statement highlights the “extensive, deep cleaning” that is taking place on all of Apple’s sites, and the fact the Apple is rolling out health screenings and temperature checks.

Paid As Usual

The statement also makes it clear that despite the temporary closures, flexible and remote working, Apple’s staff will be paid as usual, and that the company’s leave policies have been expanded to take account of personal or family health circumstances created by COVID-19, such as recovering from illness, caring for a sick loved one, mandatory quarantining, or childcare challenges resulting from school closures.

Worldwide Developers Conference Online

Apple has recently announced that its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in June will be held entirely in an online format this year.  Despite this change in format, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, Phil Schiller, is choosing to see it as an “opportunity” and as an “innovative way” to bring the global developer community together with “a new experience”.

New COVID-19 News Section

In an attempt to help its users avoid fake news about the global health crisis, and to boost its credibility as a trusted brand, Apple has also announced the launch of a new COVID-19 news section, where, it says that its users will find the “latest verified reporting from trusted news outlets”.

Trusted For The Election

Even though the world is in the midst of a health crisis, the US election is still likely to be happening in November.  Apple also has plans to establish itself as a trusted news source then through its own, curated Apple News coverage of the election where it will feature “reliable” news, information and data from multiple trusted news sources.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For Apple employees, the opportunity to work flexibly and more safely from home, still receive pay as normal and receive the benefits of more favourable company leave policies is likely to be very welcome. These moves by Apple also show the company in a very positive ethical and caring light, which many would see as being consistent with its public brand values.

Closing stores only until March 27 (just over a week from now), however, may be seen by some as a trifle optimistic, and could mean that employees in those stores may be very nervous about the thought of having to go back to any customer-facing roles when the illness still has a lot further to spread before it begins to slow down.  It remains to be seen whether Apple extends this date in the light of unfolding events.

Tech Tip – Managing Background Apps

If you’re connecting via a mobile device, information, notifications and updates going to and from apps that run in the background can sap your battery power and your data.  Here’s how to control which apps are running in the background:

– Go to Settings > Privacy > Background app.

– To stop all apps from running in the background, toggle ‘Let apps run in the background’ to ‘Off’. Be aware that some background app updates serve a useful purpose.

– To stop individual apps from running in the background, scroll down the list and switch to ‘Off’ as required.

Featured Article – Google: What Do they Know About You?

To have access to Google’s many features and services, as with other platforms, we need to give some personal information and then sign-in, but have you ever wondered just how much information Google keeps about you and your activities?

Google

This article looks as some of the many different types of personal information that Google stores, and how you can manage the situation, and reduce any potential risks that you may perceive as coming from your personal data being stored by Google.

Your Personal Data

Many of us accept that certain personal information needs to be stored privately with Google, but you may wish to know which information Google categorises as ‘public’.  To check this, login to your Google account, go to ‘Manage Your Google Account’, click on ‘Personal Info’, scroll down to ‘Choose What Others See’ and click on ‘Go to About me’.  Here you’ll be able to see which information is ‘hidden’ e.g. with a padlock icon, or ‘visible’ with an earth icon.  From here you can also click on ‘Privacy Check-up’ link so that you can manage other aspects of what information is stored about you and your Google-based activities.

‘Data and Personalisation’ Section

When you log into your Google account, go to your account page and click on the ‘Data and Personalisation’ link.  At this point, you will be able to see if your ‘Web & App Activity’, ‘Location History’ and ‘YouTube History’ are switched on or off.  If they in the ‘On’ position on tick-box control, then you can assume that Google is tracking and storing plenty of your data relating to these factors.

Web & App Activity

As the name suggests, this relates to your activity on Google sites and apps, and this also includes your location. The stated reason for collecting this information (with your consent, via the toggle control) is to give you “personalised experiences”.  Within the ‘Activity Controls’ section here you should also be able to see tick-box controls for the tracking and storing of your Chrome history and activity from sites, apps and devices that use Google services, and for including any voice and audio recordings.

You can stop Google from tracking this further by turning off the blue toggle switch in the ‘Activity Controls’ section relating to your Web & App Activity which then gives you the option to ‘pause’ this type of tracking.

If you’d like Google to automatically delete this data either every 3 or every 18 months, you can select the gear icon and choose the ‘Automatically Delete’ option and then choose which timeframe. Once this has been done Google will immediately delete current data that’s older than the timeframe specified by you.  Also, you choose to Delete activity by either Last hour, Last day, All time or a custom range.

Location History

By allowing Google to track your location history, Google can record and display information about where you’ve been with your devices, even if you haven’t been using a specific Google service at the time.

The positive aspects of Google storing this information is that you can get personalised maps and recommendations from Google based on places that you’ve visited, and if you click on the ‘Manage Activity’ link in your location history section in Google, it can be interesting to see where you’ve been on holiday and checked in with your location.  Google lists all of what it calls the ‘confirmed’ places you’ve visited (which Google gives you the option to confirm yourself) and the so-called ‘unconfirmed’ places.

The disadvantage of Google storing (and of you reviewing) this kind of information is that if it fell into the hands of criminals or those you would specifically not want to know where you are the data could be a threat damaging e.g. showing a burglar that you’re away from your home on holiday.  You may also feel personally that the information stored about your habits is a little bit too much like ‘big brother’ or borders on an infringement of your privacy.

You can stop Google from tracking this further by turning off the blue toggle switch in the ‘Activity Controls’ section relating to your Location History which then gives you the option to ‘pause’ this type of tracking.

If you’d prefer Google to automatically delete this data either every 3 or every 18 months, you can select the gear icon and choose Automatically delete Location History, then choose which timeframe. Once this has been done Google will immediately delete current data that’s older than the timeframe specified by you. You can go back over these steps and check that the visual location timeline is empty is you really want to be sure that Google has complied with your request.

Your YouTube History

Google tracks your YouTube search and watch history i.e. what videos you’ve searched for, watched and when, and this is used by Google to show videos at the top of the page when you next visit YouTube that you may be interested in based on your History.  There could, however, be several downsides to this e.g. on a shared computer, not wanting others to see which videos you have been watching, or the suggestions may not be things you are actually interested in at that point in time.

As with the other aspects of what Google stores and tracks, it’s a case of following the arrow next to ‘YouTube History’ link in your ‘Data & personalisation’ section of Google and setting your preferences from there.

Your Purchase History

CNBC research in May 2019 highlighted how Googlemail creates a (difficult to delete) page of your purchase history which it was believed was created by tracking your purchase receipt emails, and perhaps details stored in locations other than the inbox.

Google states in its accounts help section that “Your Google Account includes purchases and reservations made using Search, Maps, and your Assistant” (note that there’s now no mention of Googlemail) and according to Google, the feature is included as a way of organising things “to help you get things done”.  Getting things done, for example, means asking your Google Assistant about the shipping status of a purchase, or asking your Google Assistant to show you your flight reservations, or using Google’s search to ask questions like, “Is my flight on time?”

Deleting From Your Purchases Page

In Google’s help section here https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/7673989 and in the subsection ‘delete your purchases and reservations’, Google provides instructions on how to delete them i.e. sign in to your Google account, go to the Purchases page (for which a link is provided),  view your purchase details and select ‘Remove Purchase’, and follow the on-screen deletion instructions.

Downloading Your Data

If you’d like to download the data from the Google ‘products’ you’ve used, Google lets you do this here: https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/3024190?hl=en&ref_topic=7188671

Beware

Even though Google does appear to allow you to manage most aspects of what data is collected about you and your activities when signed in, there have been suggestions, reports and stories published online that may indicate that you could still be tracked by Google when signed-out.  For example, back in August 2018, An Associated Press report accused Google of recording the locations of its users via their mobile devices, even when they had requested not to be tracked by turning their “Location History” off. Also, some have suggested that cookies have been used to help track YouTube activity when you’re signed out, that Google can use information from Wi-Fi and other wireless signals near your phone to keep tracking you, and that there appear to be some contradictions between Google’s statements on certain privacy issues.

Looking Forward

For many of us, we’d like to have control of our personal data (if we had the time to check it all) and are pleased that there are now laws (e.g. GDPR) to help us to do this, but we’re also aware of the value of personal data to legitimate businesses e.g. for personalisation of services, and in marketing communications which have always been valuable in gaining, retaining, and maximising the value of customers.

Clearly, data security and privacy laws perform an important role of protection, and technology giants, as well as other companies and organisations, need to continue abiding by these laws and it is helpful to allow customers easy access to see and to personally manage what information is held about them both privately and publicly.