Google ads "shopper tracking" may get a close look from the FTC


The complaint concerns Google's new Store Sales Measurement program, which aims to demonstrate to advertisers that clicks online do lead to purchases at the register. It had then developed a mathematical formula that would anonymize and encrypt the transaction data, and then automatically match the transactions to the millions of U.S. users of Google and Google-owned services like Gmail, search, YouTube, and maps.

According to EPIC's complaint, Google's consumer profiling technology can allegedly track 70 percent of all credit and debt card transactions in the US without revealing how they got the information. Google's assurance that it can protect privacy while linking offline purchases with online behavior, the privacy watchdog argues, cannot be verified because Google has not disclosed details about its technology or its third-party partners and does not allow independent auditing.

"The privacy of millions of consumers thus depends on a secret, proprietary algorithm", EPIC said.

EPIC also complains that the opt-out process is "opaque and misleading", with most users not realizing that they'd need to opt out of such a system.

"We take privacy very seriously so it's disappointing to see a number of inaccuracies in this complaint We invested in building industry-leading privacy protections before launching this solution".

Google has also not shared which companies it is receiving transaction and credit card records from, according to The Washington Post. In addition, Google only uses data that users have agreed to can be linked with their Internet activity, the company claimed. "We are committed to constantly innovating and continuing to provide transparency to users on what data we collect and how we use it". In case you've forgotten, Google recently outlined a method for pairing a user's online ad views to their in-store purchases, which totally wasn't creepy at all... really. The system matches transactions back to Google ads, which Google said was done in a "secure and privacy-safe way".

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That data gets cross-referenced with information Google already has, to connect user accounts to in-person purchases. Google fined $2.72 billion in Europe for taking advantage of search engine dominance " We don't know, for example, which companies are providing the credit card information to Google.

Rotenberg says that Google has never identified who its third-party partners are, "what data is acquired or what steps they are taking to de-identify that data".

But EPIC contends that the data Google has gathered reveals sensitive information about consumers' purchases, health, and private lives. Their complaint calls on the FTC to "enjoin (Google's) unfair and deceptive business practices, and require Google to protect the privacy of its users".

EPIC said it's even more troubling that Google hasn't revealed how it "deidentifies" consumers when it tracks their purchases.