Google Sees 70% of Card Transactions in U.S. — Here’s Why You Should Worry

google app on phone
Matt Rourke/AP Photo

Google is collecting people’s credit and debit card purchase records, and one consumer protection agency isn’t having it.

On July 31, the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission alleging that Google collects sensitive consumer information without disclosing how it’s obtained it or how consumers can stop it.

Google’s New Ad Program Is Difficult to Turn Off

Google’s new advertising program closely monitors consumer spending habits by collecting in-store transaction information from credit card companies and data brokers. The search giant says it has access to 70% of all credit and debit card transactions in the U.S.

Google claims to use this information to determine which digital ads push consumers to make purchases at physical stores.

EPIC’s main issue with this new system is that there is no effective way to opt out of Google’s offline behavior tracking. The complaint also says that turning off the offline behavior tracking doesn’t completely free consumers from being tracked, because ads are still served to them and logged with their IP addresses on Google’s server.  

Furthermore, Google’s My Activity page provides no explicit instructions on how to keep Google from matching user data to the credit and debit card transaction information it collects from third parties. The Washington Post outlines the complicated process of opting out here.

According to the complaint, Google’s secretive algorithm that matches behavioral user data to the in-store purchase information lacks third-party auditing, which makes it a target for hackers.

Google told The Washington Post it doesn’t match credit and debit card data with specific personal information, such as names or addresses, and uses custom encryption technology that keeps the data private, secure and anonymous. As a result, the search giant claims consumers’ sensitive information is not at risk.

Google’s Complicated History With Privacy

Google has frequently been criticized for privacy issues. According to The Washington Post, Google paid “multi-million-dollar fines to settle FTC charges on privacy issues” in 2011 and 2012.

The 2011 case, which Google settled for $8.5 million, was in response to EPIC’s claim that Google used “deceptive tactics” and violated its own privacy policies when it launched its social network, Google Buzz. In the 2012 case, Google paid $22.5 million because it didn’t keep its promise that it wouldn’t place tracking cookies on the Safari browser or serve targeted ads to its users.

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

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