Google's In-Store Tracking Of Users' Purchases Draws Ire Of Privacy Watchdog Group

Being tracked when you are online is a everyday reality for many of us. While there are ways that you can hide your online shopping and surfing habits from tracking devices and marketers, the majority of us don't care if Google knows that we bought new pants from Amazon. Google's latest shopper tracking program is a bit creepier though and has been around since May of this year, but you probably didn't even know about it.

Google's new purchase tracking program is called Google Attribution and the search giant says that the purpose of the new program is to let marketers know if their efforts are working. It's integrated with AdWords, Google Analytics, and DoubleClick search according to Google. NPR reports that Google Attribution takes data from Google search and app records and then combines that information with credit card purchase data that Google receives from third parties. In the end, Google is able to match your real world purchase up with things you searched for online and tell marketers what you bought. If that doesn't sit well with you, you are not alone.

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A privacy watchdog group has filed a complaint with the FTC over Google's new real-world purchase tracking system. The watchdog is called "The Electronic Privacy Information Center" (EPIC) and the group fears that Google's new system isn't safeguarding user privacy enough.

"Google claims that they don't know who the users are, that they are being de-identified," says Marc Rotenberg, the president of EPIC. "We want the FTC to take a closer look."

Google issued a statement to the NPR stating, "We invested in building industry-leading privacy protections before launching this solution. All data is encrypted and aggregated."

What many who find this new shopper tracking system too invasive don't know is that this sort of tracking has been going on for a while. Google has, for instance, been able to tell if you click an ad for Petsmart on its network and then visit your local store using location data from your smartphone. However, the new system goes further than that by using credit card transaction data from in-store purchases. Google said when the program launched that its third-party partnerships capture 70% of credit and debit transactions in the US.

Rotenburg points out that Google won't say who these third-party partners are, what data it is acquiring, and what steps are taken to de-identify the data. He says that if Google can prove that its anonymizing practices are as competent as it claims, EPIC's concerns will be washed away. EPIC also wants Google to make the opt-out process for this new tracking system clearer and easier for consumers to understand.

Google isn't alone in tracking people in the real-world, Facebook has been in hot water over real-world tracking and a suit against it for this practice was recently dismissed by a California judge.