Google Uses Gmail to Track the Things You Buy Online

By | June 5, 2019
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Google Uses Gmail to Track the Things You Buy Online

Google PrivacyI walk a lot, and my walks used to be private. Now when I walk down the streets of my little town, there are cameras everywhere. Cameras on the street corners, cameras in parking lots, cameras on the traffic lights, cameras on top of buildings, even cameras in churchyards; cameras everywhere. It’s not that I do anything exciting on my walks, but still one should have the expectation of privacy while taking a walk. But no more. There are so many invasions and breaches of privacy that I’ve finally become jaded at the prospect of finding privacy anywhere. But now, at least,  my little town does have a lot of video of me walking down the street in baggy shorts. Sorry to say, it won’t be a source of revenue for them.

So now I don’t expect privacy anywhere, not when walking, not when watching TV, and certainly not when I’m online.  But with my low expectations of privacy aside, I was taken aback when I read an article about Google tracking all my purchases and keeping them in history. Actually, I was more than a little bit skeptical – until I saw it with my own eyes. When I checked, I found a list of almost everything I’ve purchased online since 2013 all in order and all on a page Google calls “Purchases”. Strangely, not one of these items were purchased from Google. Most of them were purchased from Amazon, but some items were purchased from other stores as well.

I didn’t purchase anything that I wouldn’t want other people to see or know about, but there’s something spooky about Google tracking my purchases from non-Google sites like Amazon. I have an Android tablet with the Kindle app that I use for reading, so I buy a lot of books from Amazon. Every book I’ve purchased from Amazon in the last six years  – even the ones that were free and purchased from Amazon for $0.00 – are listed on the Google page.

The only way Google could know what I purchase online from stores others than Google would be from the receipts that come to me via Gmail. And no, I don’t really think that Google has millions of people thumbing through my emails, but they certainly have algorithm-powered software scanning my email looking for online order confirmations.

This seems like it lives somewhere on a slippery slope to me. I mean if Google can glean order confirmations from my inbox, why not credit card statement information, or memberships to organizations… use your imagination here.

As I said at the beginning when I’m online I have zero expectation that I’m going to have any privacy at all, but still learning that Google has been scouring through my mail for at least the last six years and compiling a list of just about everything I’ve purchased online surprises me, although it shouldn’t, I guess.

There is a page in my Google account — and yours — called “Purchases ” and it shows an eerily accurate list of almost everything I’ve purchased online going back to 2013. I made these purchases at Amazon,  Wal-Mart, Target and a couple of other stores. But I’ve never bought anything from Google. When I looked at the list of purchases I was shocked by the detailed trail of information Google had scraped from my email over the last six years. The comprehensiveness, the depth, and the detail of the list shocked me. And I can’t help but wonder why Google collects and aggregates this information.

Cloudeight Essays, Privacy, Google

There’s no easy way to remove things from this list that Google keeps on the “Purchase” page. You can click on an item in your list of purchases and click on the “Delete” button. But if you do, it takes you back to the Gmail message that contains the purchase receipt. You delete the entry on the “Purchases” page, you delete the email.  So,  you can also go through your Gmail inbox and archives and delete all the emails with purchased receipts. But if you buy a lot of things online this could take you a long time to do. If you’re like me, you like to save the receipts in case you need them later on. One thing is for certain: There is no way to delete items from your list of purchases without also deleting the email containing the receipts from Gmail.

Do you want to see your “Purchases” page?

If you use a Gmail address when you buy things online and you’d like to see your list of purchases, make sure you’re logged in to Gmail and the link below:

https://myaccount.google.com/purchases

Google claims it’s not using this data for ads and only the user can see the list of purchases, but I can see no reason why  Google needs to track almost all online purchases. Even if it’s not being used for ads, there’s no reason why Google should need to track years of purchases and then even “curiouser” make it difficult to people to delete their Purchase information. Google says it’s looking into simplifying its settings to make them easier to control, but not explaining why they need to create that list in the first place.

Google’s “Purchases” page is just another drop of water in an endless ocean of private data that large companies collect and aggregate without the knowledge of the consumer.  Almost every book, pair of walking shoes, Christmas present, book or movie I purchased online, no matter the store, in the last six years was being collected by Google and put on a page called Purchases in my Gooogle Account. Until today, I was unaware that this page even existed. And to think I can’t remove anything from the “Purchases” list without also deleting the corresponding receipt email in my Gmail inbox or archives is disconcerting – even for me – and I’m one who expects very little in the way of online privacy.

Every day, online and increasingly offline, our privacy and even our right to privacy is slowly being eroded by the comprehensive and uncontrollable quest to transform unlimited information into unlimited wealth.

16 thoughts on “Google Uses Gmail to Track the Things You Buy Online

  1. JonInOz

    Hi TC & EB,
    Thank you, I agree with your article.
    Google operatives should stick to being a browser.
    No doubt that the sneaky underhanded Purchases logging is done to enable bombarding individual online shoppers with Google’s weird idea that people have a need to be pestered with intrusive advertising garbage.

    Reply
  2. Maria

    Hi there,
    I am resigned to the loss of privacy these days. One small silver lining, if you’re like me and forget a lot, you have this huge list of what you bought and when.

    Reply
  3. Dotty

    Hello,
    I followed your instruction and found nothing. I have two different gmail account and checked both of them. I buy online all the time. Wal-mart, Amazon, Clinique, Pizza, Vitamins, books from Barnes & Noble. I do use PayPal to make my purchase unless I am using their credit card (wal-mart or amazon) I have also purchased many of Cloudeight products. Guess I am a lucky one. Praise the Lord. Love your site and advice.

    Reply
    1. infoave Post author

      You have to be logged into the Gmail account you used as the email address when you made the purchases. No one gets lucky. If you deleted all your archived mail you would not have anything listed in Google Purchases. You can read Google’s own explanation of how they track purchases, subscriptions and food orders here.

      Reply
  4. Margaret

    I totally agree with what you say about the invasion of privacy and get frustrated to find that a company I had some faith in isn’t at all what I had thought.
    As for the silver lining Maria mentioned, I wish! If they are going to do this let it be complete! hahaha My list lacks so much: 2018 Christmas gifts purchased through Amazon, oodles of books (free) from the same company, and purchases from Ebay. Possibly other stuff but I didn’t look further.
    My list goes back to April 2015 but could have gone considerably further.

    Reply
    1. infoave Post author

      You have to be logged into your Google account first. You can read Google’s own explanation of how they gather information from receipts in your Gmail account here – but only the account you used as the address for your orders. You are not using a Gmail address to make this comment. If you don’t use your Gmail address when you purchase online you won’t see them in your Google account.

      Reply
      1. Willy

        I’m also not showing any purchases, I am logged in, and buy from Amazon and others all the time.
        Not sure why some are showing purchases and others not? Maybe something I ticked in the privacy settings?
        Willy.

        Reply
        1. Willy

          Sorry, just reread your info about the archived messages, I have none, that’s why.
          Willy.

          Reply
  5. D.

    “Google claims it’s not using this data for ads and only the user can see the list of purchases, but I can see no reason why Google needs to track almost all online purchases. Even if it’s not being used for ads, there’s no reason why Google should need to track years of purchases and then even “curiouser” make it difficult to people to delete their Purchase information. Google says it’s looking into simplifying its settings to make them easier to control, but not explaining why they need to create that list in the first place.”

    I think Google says a lot of things we need to step back and take a look at what they’re saying and actually doing. Don’t get me wrong I’m not in love with Amazon or Microsoft either, but when it comes to ads you are not going to beat Google. That is where they make their money is ads or info. These ad blockers must be putting a hurting on them right now. Here is what they are up to right now.

    How Google’s anti-adblocking draft affects other Chromium-based browsers
    by Martin Brinkmann on June 06, 2019 in Google Chrome –
    Google is working on a new manifest for Chrome extensions that defines the capabilities that extensions have in Google Chrome.

    The manifest is available as a draft currently which means that it is not set in stone. One of the changes impacts most adblocking extensions for Chrome significantly if it passes in its current state.

    Google plans to limit an API that most content blockers use currently and replace it with a new API that is limited as well. Core limitations include a fixed limit for the number of blocking rules that extensions may support. Google set the limit to 30,000 in the draft; popular blocking lists have more than double the number of entries already, and that does not even take into account options to use multiple lists. Google knows about that but has not adjusted the limit since draft publication.

    Google Chrome is based on Chromium code to a large extent. The changes that Google proposes could impact other Chromium-based web browsers such as Vivaldi, Opera, Brave, or the new Microsoft Edge browser as well.

    The big question is this: will extensions be limited on these browsers as well if Manifest launches in its current state? There is no catch-all answer as it depends on a number of factors

    Reply
    1. infoave Post author

      Chrome is based on Chromium which is not a Google entity or product. Vivaldi, Edge Dev and other browsers based on Chromium are not under the control of Google. Google can limit what they allow in Chrome and offer from the Google Stores (Play/Chrome), but I seriously don’t see Google telling Microsoft and other companies what they can and can’t allow. And I have seen Google’s manifest before, not all, not even most come to fruition. We’ll just have to wait and see. Brinkmann is a HUGE Firefox fan, so his reporting may be a little biased as well. Chrome currently controls 68% of the browser market, Firefox only 9.5%. I think Martin does a great job, I like his writing, but he truly loves Firefox and it’s obvious. But then we all have favorites 🙂 My take on the whole thing is let’s wait and see. I don’t think Google is going to commit Chrome suicide by forcing its users to put up with ads. Web advertising in its current form is not working and, I can tell you that for a fact. Our site used to generate 3 times the ad revenue it does now with the same number of visitors. But we’re not going to increase the number of ads or not let you view their content unless you turn off your ad blocker like some sites are doing. We’ll have to find a way to make up for lost revenue. That’s why we have to increasingly rely on donations. I say let’s wait and see what Google actually does down the road.

      Reply
      1. D.

        Let me ask something about ads on say your site for instance if you don’t mind. Is just showing the ads good enough to make money, or do you have to click on them? If you did not have to click on them and you did not say have ads that really slowed you down, would that be steady enough income for you if people disabled their ad blockers here. I know some people want and I understand that. I clear everything once I leave a site but I do not click on ads.

        Thank you for taking the time to comment above as always…D.

        Reply
        1. infoave Post author

          We don’t expect anyone to click on ads just to help us. The ads really only pay if someone clicks on an ad. But even with clicks, ads hardly pay anything anymore. About 1/5 of what they used to. Using the google search box on out start page actually pays better than the ads. We are able to stay in business through sales of our services (Cloudeight Direct), Emsisoft, Reg Organizer, and donations. We’ve been fortunate enough to have many people help us with donations.

          Reply
  6. Shaun

    Sorry this is a bit tangential . I went to a PhD research conference on digital health. It was put on by an English University Research Hospital health provider (University Bristol Health Trust). Speakers highlighted how what Google (and others) do can be used to track those with diabetes (eating cakes, etc and when a person moves between rooms in their house) and monitor compliance with health guidance. Similar health apps are being developed for those with mental health problems, alcoholics and more besides. UBHT said they had 5,000 PhD students working digital health apps, which must be a mistake? Personally, I found this prospect to be potentially very frightening ; though, there is the possibility of significant health benefits . I guess these would be at a low cost and repeatable across nation states . The National Health Service, being a single organisation with a data set that covers all income groups makes the UK an ideal location for developing these schemes. Somehow, we’re going have to ‘fight the fight’ for meaningful regulation (at present the N.H.S. works within something called the SNOMED CT standard ) or how our data are used by these organisations will reduce free will, in a meaningful sense, to an illusion. So far the technical complexity of combining disparate databases in both real time, while also bringing historic health records in, has cost £billions without complete success.

    Reply
    1. infoave Post author

      I’m skeptical that Google or other companies track people in their homes and watching them eating cakes. Where are the cameras? If you’re really concerned about companies invading your home, cover your webcam with black tape. I don’t believe in some of the practices of Google and others and I don’t think there is any privacy on the web.

      Reply

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