Google Tracking Algorithm Under FTC Scrutiny Over Privacy

On Monday, the privacy rights watchdog organization Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, accusing Google of misleading customers about the extent of surveillance involved in Google’s new Store Sales Measurement program.

In May, Google unveiled a tool that would enable advertisers to track the effectiveness of advertisements in encouraging customers to shop. The program allows them to track credit card purchases, and connects the cards to online profiles in order to identify whether people who saw advertisements were more motivated to purchase, according to The Washington Post.

Later in May, Google said that it would have access to 70 percent of all credit card transaction data in the United States thanks to partnerships with third parties, according to MediaPost.

In a statement, Google responded to the FTC complaint by saying “This type of sales measurement is common and before we launched our solution, we invested in building a new, custom encryption technology that ensures users’ data remains private, secure, and anonymous. We do not have access to any identifiable user’s credit and debit card data from our partners for this product, nor do we share any personal user information with our partners.”

A spokesman said the technology was “double-blinded,” preventing the company from accessing any information that allows employees to see who the activity belongs to.

Google under privacy accusations [Image by Win McNamee/Getty Images]

However, EPIC’s complaint alleges that Google’s new algorithm puts users at risk and unfairly violates their privacy. The organization also said there was no apparent and easy method for people to opt-out of the data collection. 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.”

According to EPIC executive director Marc Rotenberg, “Google is seeking to extend its dominance from the online world to the real, offline world, and the FTC really needs to look at that.”

Google faces privacy allegations
Google faces privacy allegations [Image by Adam Berry/Getty Images]

Google has not yet disclosed the mathematical algorithm it uses to anonymize customer data, according to EPIC. The privacy watchdog asked the FTC to review the algorithm and determine if it is, in fact, effective at anonymizing customer data.

Google has also not shared which companies it is receiving transaction and credit card records from, according to The Washington Post.

[Featured image by Virginia Mayo/AP Images]