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Google Businesses Government Privacy The Internet

Privacy Watchdog Asks FTC To Look Into Google's Offline Shopping Tracker (arstechnica.com) 26

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A privacy advocacy group has filed a formal legal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, asking the agency to begin an investigation "into Google's in-store tracking algorithm to determine whether it adequately protects the privacy of millions of American consumers." In the Monday filing, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) said it is concerned with Google's new Store Sales Management program, which debuted in May. The system allows the company to extend its online tracking capabilities into the physical world. The idea is to combine credit card and other financial data acquired from data brokers to create a singular profile as a way to illustrate to companies what goods and services are being searched for online, which result in actual in-person sales. Because the algorithm that Google uses is secret, EPIC says, there is no way to determine how well Google's claimed anonymization feature -- to mask names, credit card numbers, location, and other potentially private data -- actually works. While Google has been cagey about exactly how it does this, the company has previously revealed that the technique is based on CryptDB.
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Privacy Watchdog Asks FTC To Look Into Google's Offline Shopping Tracker

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  • by RotateLeftByte ( 797477 ) on Tuesday August 01, 2017 @08:04AM (#54919081)

    Really? Pull the other one. This is evil pure and simple.
    And to the people who sell on our data like it was seed corn, stop it unless we give explicit permission.

    • Care to explain *why* you think it's evil? It's not obvious to many of us.
    • by ravrazor ( 69324 ) on Tuesday August 01, 2017 @10:16AM (#54919731)
      Exactly - I consider myself pretty technology-literate. A couple of weeks ago, about 15 minutes after leaving a Burger King, a message popped up in my email thanking me for my "recent visit" and asking me to fill out a survey about how satisfied I was. I had NOT paid for anything (paid by friend), or used any sort of personal identifier except for walking in IRL. It's happened with another store or two since.

      The only thing I could narrow it down to was Google Maps, as usual not actually exiting when it was quit and running quietly in the background. Whether that means it is sending records of my physical location to Google constantly, or somehow listening all the time to be triggered by some signal when I enter a store is irrelevant.

      It is done by something Google is doing on my phone (and millions of others), is a complete breach of privacy, and not based on anything as specific as a credit card as I never made purchases in most places it asked about and they don't have any of my card info.
  • by NineNine ( 235196 ) on Tuesday August 01, 2017 @08:18AM (#54919145)

    Multiple credit card companies are already doing this. Our merchant services company offered us this same data. Of course Google is tracking everything you do. But they can only do it with the willing help of Visa/Mastercard.

    • by guruevi ( 827432 )

      Exactly. There are a number of companies now offering not just your credit card data but which ads subgroups of people look online, what they buy in the real world and together with location data shared from cell phone apps and ad beacons, together with gaze tracking, even what real world ads they view and paths they take in places like malls.

      • Is this sort of sales data a bubble? I can't imagine paying the people to code that all up will result in sales margin that cover the cost. It'd seem more worth the money to payola your way to the top of the search results in Amazon et al.
        • by guruevi ( 827432 )

          According to the sales people, it is, the costs to get into these things are huge though, not for your average business. The data feeds alone are hundreds of thousands per year and require nearly a datacenter but they can get you whatever sales info you want but they nicely tie together Social Media and Credit Card Transactions with Location Data.

        • If it increases Wallmart's revenue by 0.25%, that's an extra billion dollars.

  • We say business model.

    I imagine the folks at the Federal Trade Commission are pretty shook up about this.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "..there is no way to determine how well Google's claimed anonymization feature -- to mask names, credit card numbers, location, and other potentially private data -- actually works."

    Its right there in the title "Google's claimed anonymization feature" ....so it doesn't work at all.

  • Why not just also forbid the fidelity cards etc, which do exactly the same thing.

  • I spent a while in the shelving department at a store; did no related searches, took no pictures.. (was there to look at PS4 vs Xbone game selections, so was looking for shelves to put it on, maybe) ended up buying a unit with cash.

    Today I got multiple ads for shelving units on sale at that same store.

    I keep location services turned off...

I bet the human brain is a kludge. -- Marvin Minsky