Googlemail’s Tracking of Your Purchase History

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

Not Obvious

Back in May, CNBC researchers highlighted how your Googlemail account creates a page of your purchases, which it was believed was created by tracking the purchase receipts that arrive in the email inbox.  According to Google, the feature is included as a way of organising things “to help you get things done”.  In Google’s account help section, Google states that “Your Google Account includes purchases and reservations made using Search, Maps, and the Assistant, as well as your order confirmations from Gmail”.

In the announcements of the results of CNBC’s research back in May, it was noted that this “private destination” purchases page wasn’t mentioned on the Data & Personalization page in a Google Account and as such, it may have been inconvenient for users to have to search for it.  It was also noted by researchers at the time that the only way to ensure that purchase data was deleted from the page was to go to the time and trouble of finding the digital receipt in the Gmail account and deleting it.

Hard To Delete

In the latest CNBC research findings, it has been claimed that, even though researcher Todd Haselton deleted each single purchase email from his Gmail inbox in order to clear the purchases page, on returning three weeks later, he found that all of his purchases (over years) were again listed on the purchases page.  This has led to the assumed conclusion that the listing of our purchases may also be stored in another location other than the inbox.

How To Delete 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.

Privacy?

Some commentators have expressed the view that automatically collecting and storing online and offline purchase details in this way may appear to be at odds with Google’s public position of being focused on privacy.

This is certainly not the first time that Google has faced criticism over privacy matters.  For example, Google recently faced criticism over its reCaptcha V3 bot-detecting login system apparently requiring a Google cookie to be installed on a user’s browser which could potentially put the user’s browsing history privacy at risk.   Other examples of Google making the news over privacy concerns include a microphone was discovered in Google’s Nest Guard product that was not listed in tech spec (which was put down to an erroneous omission by Google), and in December last year, research by Internet Privacy Company DuckDuckGo reporting evidence that could show that even in Incognito mode, users of Google Chrome can still be tracked, and searches are still personalised accordingly.

Chrome Browser Alternatives

If you’re concerned about having aspects of your online behaviour tracked by Google’s Chrome browser, Wired recently compiled a list of anti-tracking web browsers which you may like to try.  These include new privacy-enhanced browser Brave, Ghostery which available as a standalone browser on mobile, Tor which provides layers of encryption and routing through various locations to protect your identity, DuckDuckGo for mobile devices, and FireFox Focus.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Google’s Chrome may be the most popular browser, but there may be many features about it that users may not be aware of and may be a little surprised about, the purchases page being one of them.  It’s a shame that users seem to have to actively seek out elements such as the purchases page and how to delete things from it rather than it being made more obvious and easily accessible with a Google account.  Even though Google has said that only the user can see it and that the details on the purchases page aren’t used for targeted advertising, it may still be of concern to many that data about their purchases over years is being collected and being stored, and that it may not be a simple task to delete it.  It is not surprising, therefore, that some users may be turning to privacy-enhanced browser alternatives as they feel less sure that tech giants such as Google are demonstrating that a real commitment to the kinds of privacy matters that are important to users.

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