Legal Complaint Filed Against Google Over Privacy Concerns

Tech giant Google has been targeted by the Electronic Privacy Information Center in a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission. According to a report published by the Washington Post in late July, the EPIC complaint made to the FTC alleges that Google’s new Store Sales Measurement program goes too far in its intent to track the behavior of online shoppers as it relates to the purchases they make by means of electronic payments.

According to EPIC, the new Google advertising program merits federal investigation due to the massive data collection operation managed by the search engine giant. Google is obtaining this information through data brokers that collect credit card transactions; the data is ostensibly used by Google to feed algorithms and machine learning constructs to establish patterns of consumption and purchasing. EPIC believes that sensitive consumer information is being revealed through the use of this program.

The online consumer advocacy organization also argues that Google engages in deceptive practices because it does not offer comprehensive methods to opt out of data collection methods. The Store Sales Measurement program was first announced in 2014; after a couple of years of active testing, Google rolled out the program along with other marketing components such as location extensions for YouTube and analytics that provide marketing intelligence related to in-store visits.

It is worth mentioning that the Google program in question attempts to relate brick-and-mortar store visits by shoppers who may have been motivated by online advertising. To this effect, Google measured store visits in 17 countries before rolling out analytical tools to clients earlier this year. Google estimates that it has tracked more than five billion visits.

Google had previously explained that the credit and debit card transaction data used in this program is being gathered anonymously and with great care to respect the privacy of shoppers. Reportedly, Google has secured data licensing agreements with data brokers that handle transactions made on the Visa and MasterCard networks, and the agreement includes an understanding that all data must be encrypted prior to transmission.

The EPIC complaint includes concerns about the advanced nature of Google’s algorithms and artificial intelligence technology, which could take anonymous transaction data tied to offline store visits for the purpose of revealing the identity or home address of individuals who are not aware of the program. In the past, leaked AOL search engine queries have been used by security researchers to determine the identity of individuals.