Privacy Concerns Arise Over Google's New Tracking Tool

Privacy Concerns Arise Over Google's New Tracking Tool

Privacy Concerns Arise Over Google's New Tracking Tool

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has complained to the FTC about Google tracking in-store purchases and connecting that data to online actions.

Google uses its SSM program to track whether consumers have converted online advertisements displayed on Google search pages into in-store purchases, according to the complaint.

Google says that it does not collect any information on what an individual might have actually purchased or how much they might have spent in a transaction. It wants the company to explain what data on credit and debit card purchases it's accessing, how it's getting the information and what encryption it's using to ensure user data remains anonymous.

Through its search engine and other services, including YouTube, Gmail and Google Maps, Google can assess where its users are going, with whom they are communicating and what types of videos they are watching. Google's intimate relationship with the United States intelligence apparatus is particularly troublesome in this context.

It would seem that the main point of the complaint being directed at Google is that now, users can't even do things in the physical world that the company can't track. "In addition, Google does not know what products people bought".

Google has claimed having access to 70 percent of US customers credit or debit card records.

Armed with such proof of purchase Google can command a higher premium when negotiating advertising sales but Epic contends that this comes with an unacceptable loss of privacy in relation to consumers purchases, health and private lives.

Google has of course assured everybody that all of the data the collect is anonymized and hashed, not to mention encrypted and all of the other safe-sounding words they can muster. Google says it protects consumers' privacy and does not use the data to identify any specific person's behavior - just the overall impact of internet advertising on store sales.

The foundational algorithm on which the Google platform is based has known security flaws. One of EPIC's requests of the FTC is that it "mandate algorithmic transparency", which would allow independent researchers to verify that the algorithm is secure.

It is possible to opt out of this tracking. Because Google does not reveal which credit card companies it has partnered with, consumers can not choose to use one card over another for personal privacy reasons.

But some say that the technology violates privacy and puts consumers' personal information at risk. Opting out of in-store purchase tracking requires Google users to opt out of location tracking, which EPIC says would not be surmised by "a reasonable consumer". Moreover, he claims that the opt out process is misleading and that most users are not aware of this possibility.

Google has denied the alleged customer privacy violations and said the complaint includes several inaccuracies.

Google eventually settled with the FTC and discontinued Buzz in 2011.

EPIC's filing against Google regarding SSM alleges that Google is engaged in multiple unfair trade practices and deceptive acts in violation of federal law, and that the FTC therefore has regulatory authority to impose fines.

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