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Gmail logs your purchase history, undermining Google’s commitment to privacy

google pixel 2 oct 4 2017 Sundar Pichai
Google CEO Sundar Pichai

Google tracks many of your online purchases, even if they are bought from a non-Google affiliated store like Amazon, according to a report from CNBC this week — a troubling example of the way that Google collects data from the services you use without you being aware of it.

Google has recently tried to portray itself as more focused on privacy; CEO Sundar Pichai wrote a May 7 op-ed in the New York Times saying that “privacy should not be a luxury good.” Yet the reality is that Google, like many internet companies, makes its money from your data. The more data a company has on you, the more accurately it can target advertisements to you specifically.

The “Purchases” page on Google keeps track of many of the purchases that you have made, using digital receipts sent to your Gmail inbox. It seems to track both physical purchases and digital ones, meaning both actual items like clothes or groceries, and services like Apple Care or music MP3s.

In a statement to CNBC, Google said that the page was for the benefit of users: “To help you easily view and keep track of your purchases, bookings, and subscriptions in one place, we’ve created a private destination that can only be seen by you,” a Google spokesperson said.

Google also said that the information wasn’t used to serve ads, and that the data could be deleted. “You can delete this information at any time. We don’t use any information from your Gmail messages to serve you ads, and that includes the email receipts and confirmations shown on the Purchase page,” the statement said.

But in practice, many users have found that it’s not so easy to delete data from the Purchases page. If you look on your Data & Personalization page on Google Account, where your activity controls are located, you won’t see any mention of Purchases. It seems that the only way to delete data from Purchases is to delete the digital receipt from your Gmail, which is not exactly convenient.

And other users feel uncomfortable that this information is being collated without their knowledge. Google says that the information from your mail isn’t being used to advertise to you — but the fact that so much information about what you buy is being pulled into one page is worrying.

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