Opinion | Why Does Google Know Everything You’ve Bought on Amazon for the Past Six Years?

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Last month, CNBC reported on a page in Google’s account settings titled “Purchases” — a month-by-month list of items you’ve bought across online services like Amazon and other apps that are collected via Google services like Gmail.

It’s not quite fair to call the reveal of the Google Purchases page a scandal; the page is publicly accessible, and it’s not as if the company is illicitly purchasing the information — instead, it’s scanning your inbox and scraping information based on confirmation and purchase emails you directed to your Gmail account.

And yet, Purchases is a jarring example of how leaky our data really is and how large companies can aggregate that information unbeknown to the consumer. I, for one, was unaware that almost every concert ticket, Domino’s pizza and Amazon purchase (including a 2014 accidental purchase of the film “Tango & Cash”) was being logged by Google. Equally troubling: The purchases can’t easily be deleted from the page without also deleting the receipt emails from your Gmail account.

When I scanned my list I was struck by the length of the trail of information — more than six years of online purchases. The depth of that digital record reminded me of other reports of individuals downloading their data from Facebook and Google after 2018’s Cambridge Analytica scandal and despairing at the granular detail of the information collected. Every movement cataloged, analyzed and leveraged. But to what end?

Google’s explanation in this instance feels lacking. The company told CNBC that the Purchases page exists simply “to help you easily view and keep track of your purchases, bookings and subscriptions in one place” and that it does not sell user data or use your Gmail information to show you ads. But the company’s privacy page also notes that “information about your orders may also be saved with your activity in other Google services.”

Scrolling through my Purchases, I couldn’t shake the most basic questions: What good reason is there for Google to store six years of detailed purchase information? Why can’t I delete it without deleting the emailed receipts? Why aren’t there default time limits on how long information is stored?

I had the same reaction reading a story in The Washington Post last week that revealed how in just one week, 5,400 hidden app trackers transmitted personal data (in some cases, violating app privacy policies) to third parties. I found it hard to get through the piece without getting tripped up on a series of “whys”: Why do our apps hoover up our personal information and funnel it out in the dead of night? Why aren’t these behaviors limited by our phones by default? Patrick Jackson, a former National Security Agency researcher who helped The Post conduct the tracker experiment, had similar questions. “This is your data,” he told The Post. “Why should it even leave your phone? Why should it be collected by someone when you don’t know what they’re going to do with it?”

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This week’s dive into the archive is a fun 1998 column from Sabra Chartrand that chronicles the earliest days of online tracking through the development of one cookie-tracking patent.

As usual, there’s some excellent musing about the future of the World Wide Web:

That does not daunt those who believe that with customized information delivery and targeted advertising, someday the Internet will become the most lucrative way to sell goods and services. They picture a world in which customers will leave traces of information about their habits, preferences, spending patterns, economic needs and personal status every time they use a computer. The information will be sorted into data bases and used to fashion Web sites, promotional campaigns, advertisements and even junk mail that is tailored specifically to each user.

They pictured correctly!

Then there’s this, which hits like a ton of bricks in 2019:

Certainly such visions raise concerns about privacy. Without tackling those issues, however, many companies are at work on the software and hardware needed to make culling the information and setting up the data bases a reality. One company, the Thinking Media Corporation of New York, has a new patent for a method of tracking how people respond to internet advertisements and commercial Web sites.

You really ought to read the whole thing for a look at the beginning of the modern web and some much simpler times:

“What we’ve done is insert a very small homing beacon that goes along with an ad or a Web page,” Mr. Davis explained. “It’s a piece of Java, a Java applet.”

There’s an easy way to make sure apps aren’t siphoning your data in the night (as mentioned above) and that’s to delete sketchy or unused apps. My colleagues at the Wirecutter have a handy guide to decluttering your phone here.

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Author: ApnayOnline

ApnayOnline.com is an oline news portal which aims to provide latest trendy news around the Asia

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