Google Uses Gmail to Track the Things You Buy Online
I 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.
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:
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.