back to article Google tracks what you spend offline to prove its online ads work. And privacy folks are furious

Google's advertising systems that connect people's in-store purchases to their online browsing may face regulatory review – because the Chocolate Factory won't disclose details about how it slices and dices its data. On Monday, privacy warriors at EPIC announced they have filed a complaint with America's Federal Trade …

  1. Daedalus Silver badge

    News indeed

    Wow.

    Imagine my surprise.

    Let's backtrack: some years ago I tried to educate a local PC users group about loyalty cards. Just for the sake of writing something in the monthly newsletter, of course. I pointed out that in exchange for whatever bennies you got, you were giving up your shopping history. I further noted that if you happened to use a credit or debit card with the loyalty card, you were in principle letting them track all your purchases everywhere with or without the loyalty card.

    So here we are: A links to B links to C and we are everywhere tracked.

    But that still doesn't explain why those shoe ads keep appearing in all my browser pages and phone app ads. Oh no, it's the Shoe Event Horizon! Wure doomed, I tell ye. Doomed.

    1. TheVogon

      Re: News indeed

      Hopefully the US will finally spank Slurp for a few billion like the EU has...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: News indeed

      "But that still doesn't explain why those shoe ads keep appearing in all my browser pages [...]".

      uBlock Origin and Ghostery would fix that for you.

      I use separate Visa or Mastercard credit cards for offline v online. Rarely use the credit card offline anyway.

    3. Ian Michael Gumby
      Black Helicopters

      @Daedalus Re: News indeed

      Affinity cards is one way to track customers while at the same time the store has all of the credit card purchases made by customer.

      Its when you have the Store branded affinity card selling your shopping history to a third party that you start to have issues.

      With respect to Google, they have connected two separate PII data sets that create a really criminal bit of snooping.

      Suppose you are diabetic. So they start to show you adds for diabetic products. and then tie back your pharma purchases for drugs and glucose meter supplies back to you. Along with your other prescription meds.

      That's a no no and it would be illegal under HIPPA.

      Google's only defense is that they can 'protect' the information, all the while they are snooping on you worse than the government.

      Free clue. With the government they have laws. Google just laughs at it and does what they want until caught and threatened. Another free clue. Google can always sell your data to the government of your choice. (Now you wonder why they were cozy with the Dems? ;-) Moffit field use at a low price including a discount on fuel? ;-)

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        "connected two separate PII data sets that create a really criminal bit of snooping."

        An ethical fail for most people.

        A cause for a performance bonus or promotion at Google.

        Googlespeak "Your privacy is important to us"

        Translation.

        Sell a data broker information once and you'll have to sell more to them tomorrow.

        Sell them the processed product and they have to come back to us forever.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Googlespeak "Your privacy is important to us"

          It is - because when/while/if they have a monopoly on the ability to break your privacy, that gives them a bigger advantage.

  2. Christopher Reeve's Horse

    Jokes on them...

    "...after seeing Google-served adverts on the web"

    What makes them think I see any adverts on the web?

    1. Andy Non Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Jokes on them...

      Adverts? Are there adverts on the interwebs?

    2. Blank Reg Silver badge

      Re: Jokes on them...

      I suppose I see them, but years of practise means I don't actually notice them, they are just those areas at the top and sides with meaningless text and images.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Jokes on them...

        "they are just those areas at the top and sides with meaningless text and images."

        Same here. Sometimes to the extent that I can't find what I'm looking for when a website actually puts a useful bit in a right hand sidebar. I've conditioned myself to ignore that part of the page.

      2. fobobob

        Re: Jokes on them...

        You get the 'blank space' effect too, i take it. Be careful, as it makes it hard to find information sometimes; especially when derpy web designers make stuff that fits the form of a typical ad.

        1. MyffyW Silver badge

          Re: Jokes on them...

          The only ad that really pisses me off is that NetApp one here on El Reg which brings my corporate PC to a grinding halt.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is why you want anonymous payments

    Where the merchant doesn't know your identify and the bank/payment processor doesn't know what merchant is being paid. Apple Pay does the first, but not the second. I suppose the merchants would not be willing to partner with Apple on something where they didn't know who was being paid, and Apple would have to accept the transaction fraud risk. Not an easy solution for that half of it, and if it is the banks selling transaction info to Google then something like Apple Pay doesn't help.

    Sounds like a good reason to pay in cash, but doing so is inconvenient at times and impossible for many bigger ticket items.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: This is why you want anonymous payments

      You mean like cash?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This is why you want anonymous payments

        Ever try to buy something online with cash, or buy a car with cash? Not so easy to do...

        1. Peter2 Silver badge

          Re: This is why you want anonymous payments

          I think the point is that if you buy in shops with cash and don't use loyalty cards then tracking your purchases is impossible. The most you'd get out of my financial records is a reasonable view of where i've taken money out, which rarely corresponds to where i've visted.

          Personally, I find that it's easier to not spend cash as handing over large numbers of notes feels like you've made a big purchase and when I start running low on notes I know i'm spending too much. I don't get that same feeling with cards (which is probably why they get pushed so much...)

          1. Wensleydale Cheese

            Re: This is why you want anonymous payments

            " think the point is that if you buy in shops with cash and don't use loyalty cards then tracking your purchases is impossible."

            Facial recognition.

            Gait recognition may be the province of the security forces at the moment, but how long until that's in commercial use?

            1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

              Re: Gait recognition?

              Walk this way ...

              I thought they used free wifi to track how your phone moves through the shop.

            2. PNGuinn
              Boffin

              Re: This is why you want anonymous payments

              "Gait recognition may be the province of the security forces at the moment, but how long until that's in commercial use?"

              Prior art. Monty Python - Ministry of silly walks.

              Bring it on!

          2. FuzzyWuzzys
            Boffin

            Re: This is why you want anonymous payments

            "I think the point is that if you buy in shops with cash and don't use loyalty cards then tracking your purchases is impossible. "

            As the data sets get bigger and bigger it's not so hard to use various algorithms to spot spending trends even when items are bought with cash. We're creatures of habit and tracking our movements is not as complex as you might imagine. We tend to like buying the same sort of things and in the same set of shops.

            I have a taste for Bovril, Toblerone and pastrami in crusty rolls, to name just three random products. I'll buy those items a couple of times a month, some with cash and sometimes with card and usually from the same half dozen supermarkets at home and work, tracking me would be tricky but most certainly not impossible.

            1. I am the liquor Silver badge

              Re: Bovril, Toblerone and pastrami in crusty rolls

              @FuzzyWuzzys: that is one really weird sandwich, but you know I'm tempted to try it.

            2. PNGuinn
              Pint

              Re: This is why you want anonymous payments

              "I have a taste for Bovril, Toblerone and pastrami in crusty rolls"

              All together?

              Pass the sick bucket.

              >> Helps it all come up easily. So I'm told.

            3. lukewarmdog
              Alert

              Re: This is why you want anonymous payments

              "I have a taste for Bovril, Toblerone and pastrami in crusty rolls, usually from the same half dozen supermarkets at home and work"

              That's one of my concerns. If you're tracking what I'm buying and where I buy it from then you know when I'm not at home. You know how far away from home I am and how long I normally spend on my round trip.

              First time that db gets hacked, every burglar knows when you're not home.

              You see a basic version of this when a footballer goes on holiday and gets burgled. Knowing when everyone is away and what they recently bought on their credit card would be carte blanche to thieves. The guys who work at that shop you just bought that £5k TV from know where you live and now they know you're out. Sure it's unlikely they'll rob you but someone will if they can get that data.

        2. Pompous Git Silver badge

          Re: This is why you want anonymous payments

          "Ever try to buy something online with cash, or buy a car with cash? Not so easy to do..."
          These many long years ago my mate Billy Thorpe wanted to buy an Aston Martin DB III. The luxury car salesman didn't like the look of Billy (long hair in pigtails, bell bottom jeans...) and told him to fuck off. So Billy went to his bank and withdrew the cash. He took it to the car dealer and emptied the briefcase on the salesman's desk. "Take that ya cunt!" he said and the salesman accepted it.

          Apart from not having the cash, I fail to see the difficulty. And the look on the salesman's face was worth a few bob according to Billy at the time.

          1. JLV

            Re: This is why you want anonymous payments

            >told him to fuck off

            reverse psychology, we've heard of it.

          2. Brenda McViking

            Re: This is why you want anonymous payments

            Yup, I've had this too. Aged 24 I went to have a look at and purchase a (used) 400hp supercharged Jaguar, which I did buy in the end. 55 year old seller just assumed I was a tyre-kicking test-pilot, until I came back with a several grand in cash. Admittedly the bank had a procedure whereby they made me wait quite some time, and asked a lot ofl questions to allow me to withdraw such a sum, but it took less than 30 minutes in branch.

          3. LDS Silver badge

            Re: This is why you want anonymous payments

            The issue today is the dealer may not accept the cash because it may have issue with anti-laundering regulations. Some states also limit the cash amount used in purchases for the same reason.

            1. Sir Runcible Spoon

              Re: This is why you want anonymous payments

              "I think the point is that if you buy in shops with cash and don't use loyalty cards then tracking your purchases is impossible"

              I always offer the person behind me in the queue if they want my 'loyalty' points in whatever store I purchase in. If they try and match my credit card to store cards they will find a lot of hits :)

              Plus it's a daily bit of charity that costs me nothing.

            2. DropBear

              Re: This is why you want anonymous payments

              "The issue today..."

              Translation: "we don't give a fuck how it used to work before, we are going to make it illegal to use any money we can't track"

          4. Nicko

            Complete and utter rubbish...

            Not untraceable at all - in the UK at least, any substantial cash purchase is likely to raise warning flags with the bank when it's deposited as the bank is an FCA regulated authority.

            If someone deposits GBP 26K, you can bet that the bank will want to know where it came from, and why - it's a criminal offence for the bank not to do due diligence (KYC) under the Anti Money Laundering regulations as they are FCA regulated - other bodies who may deal in cash are also covered, regulated or not see https://www.gov.uk/guidance/money-laundering-regulations-introduction

            Anyway, what a prattish thing to do - giving the rude salesman the commission on a sale he patently didn’t deserve....

            On an almost identical note, many years ago I had been working as a contractor abroad and had a nice pile in the bank. I fancied a new BMW M3 (this was before I was married...), so went to the local BMW dealer, L&*, and had a browse - I was wearing jeans & trainers. Long hair. Bit grungy - dunlop green flash ISTR (them was the days).

            A salesman ‘executive’, let's call him Dominic, came over and asked what I was doing there as (and I paraphrase here) I didn't seem to be the sort of person who would own a BMW. I was incensed.

            I left. At an NFU BBQ a few weeks later, we arrived in my new M3 bought from a dealer in Scotland who had put the car on the overnight train from Edinburgh to London, driven down to our house in the SE and did me a deal. Amazing service.

            So, at the BBQ, I met with the owner of the BMW dealership, let's call him Tim. Tim asked about the M3 as he had one (mine was silver, his was red - he also owned two M1s) and where I'd got it from – he knew it wasn’t from L&*…

            I told him the story - Dominic "left" a week later.

        3. Montreal Sean

          Re: This is why you want anonymous payments

          Buying a car with cash isn't so hard, it just depends on how pricey it is.

          I've bought many sub-$5000 cars for cash, and my brother in law paid $26k in cash for his first car...

          Though I admit carrying $26k is not the safest thing to do...

          1. Ian Michael Gumby

            Re: This is why you want anonymous payments

            But its not anon when you have to register the title and transfer the title and pay the tax. Cash or not certain transactions are going to be noticed.

          2. Updraft102

            Re: This is why you want anonymous payments

            That may not work in all areas. In California, there was a story about a person who went to the car dealer with a bag of cash he'd saved up over the years, being one of those non-bank-trusters, and the car dealer promptly called the police, who happily came and confiscated the cash as probable drug money. What was their evidence? Well, it's cash, and who uses that anymore except drug dealers?

            Good old land of the free.

            1. Pompous Git Silver badge

              Re: This is why you want anonymous payments

              "What was their evidence? Well, it's cash, and who uses that anymore except drug dealers?

              Good old land of the free."

              In Billy's case his evidence was that withdrawal he made from the bank less than an hour before and his pay-cheque from ABC Television shortly before that.

              I believe that in the "land of the free" Australians calling the police get shot by them these days. I'll stick with the land of the long liquid lunch thank you very much.

            2. MonkeyCee

              Re: This is why you want anonymous payments

              "... and confiscated the cash as probable drug money."

              To be fair civil asset forfeiture is dodgy as fuck.

              I am OK with the general principle that the state has the right that after you are convicted of a crime, they can sue you in civil court for assets obtained by that crime. Obviously if there is a specific victim then it should be compensatory, but if it's social damage, then going into the general tax fund seems just.

              I am a bit squeamish about the state using civil courts to seek financial redress from people not convicted of crimes, but I could see potential reasons why specific cases might be valid. A fraudster gives money to their family, then the family member has committed no crime, but has still benefited from the proceeds of crime. However, this opens an avenue to abuse.

              I am certain that being able to preemptively* seize assets on the basis that those assets alone are potentially criminal is going to be abused. The civil asset thieving program in the USA clearly shows this is the case. Essentially anything (except probably a gun, NAMBLA will be all over that) that has value can be considered potentially criminal proceeds, therefore a LEO has to decide if a person "looks criminal" and therefore couldn't possibly have legitimate reason to have a nice car or a bag of cash.

              As for google ads, it's great. I can tell what my wife has been looking up, so I can "intuitively" suggest that she is probably due a lovely summer dress, or that Italy would be lovely to visit. She also knows exactly which model GFX card I have, since I ended up buying it three times and returning it twice, thus have doubled down on the "sell me what I just purchased" super awesome ML algo...

              * to a warrant. Serving a warrant and immediately seizing assets seems OK

              1. Maty
                Pirate

                Re: This is why you want anonymous payments

                'Civil forfeiture' is simply highway robbery by law enforcement officers in many US states. Abuses have been so rife that congress tried to control it, but discovered that some police departments have become so dependent on the income that they literally cannot survive without what they strip from passing motorists. Many confiscations are for less that $500 because the cops know it's not worth tourists fighting to reclaim the money in court.

                It's standard advice in our part of the world that one does not travel in the USA with anything that a law enforcement officer might fancy. In some southern states, that even includes the car - even if you have a vehicle, at times you're better off still using a rental.

                If that sounds like exaggeration, consider these cases

                http://listverse.com/2015/06/29/10-egregious-abuses-of-civil-asset-forfeiture/

                Piracy icon can be repurposed here ...

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: This is why you want anonymous payments

                @MonkeyCee

                "* to a warrant. Serving a warrant and immediately seizing assets seems OK"

                * to a warrant. Serving a warrant and immediately freezing assets seems OK.

                FTFY

        4. Vic

          Re: This is why you want anonymous payments

          Ever try to buy ... a car with cash?

          My mate did.

          He walked into a showroom with a brown paper bag full of money. He told the salesman that he wanted *that* car, and he was going to pay *this* amount of money. Then watched the salesdroid spend 20 minutes trying not to look at the bag of cash...

          Vic.

      2. scarletherring

        Re: This is why you want anonymous payments

        >> You mean like cash?

        This. A Thousand Times This.

        It's got to the point where clerks look at me funny when I hand them real money.

  4. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Google "security"

    At one point does Google become so large that their access to your personal data is essentially the same as it being public? You want to keep your information private because it could be used to manipulate, embarrass, harass, or take advantage of you. It seems like Google was big enough for those powers years ago.

    Sunnyvale and Mountain View have concerns about too much of their city being Google. As Google is looking farther east, San Jose (population way over a million) is also a bit worried. That's how big Google is. You can see that your personal data being limited to within Google doesn't mean anything.

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Google "security"

      Judging by how many people recycle passwords Google must already have access to millions of bank accounts.

  5. ZenCoder
    Facepalm

    It's quite simple don't blame the player, vote to change the game.

    Government regulation sets the rules and game theory does the rest.

    If it's either unpopular but legal or the cost of breaking the law < the profit then a for profit company must do it to maximize shareholder value or they risk a minority shareholder lawsuit.

    Any citizen complaining against Google is complaining to the wrong entity, if you want privacy to be a right you need to let your politicians know that not protecting your privacy via legislation and regulation will cost them your votes.

    Any company complaining without avodovating real consumer protection should simply be ignored as they have zero desire to stop your privacy being violated, they just wish it was them that was doing it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's quite simple don't blame the player, vote to change the game.

      "[...] if you want privacy to be a right you need to let your politicians know that not protecting your privacy via legislation and regulation will cost them your votes."

      In the UK both major political parties want to remove people's privacy - except their own. Their idea of regulation is to give themselves sweeping powers to see everything you do.

      1. Shooter

        Re: It's quite simple don't blame the player, vote to change the game.

        @ AC

        I believe you misspelled "US".

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: It's quite simple don't blame the player, vote to change the game.

      "if you want privacy to be a right you need to let your politicians know that not protecting your privacy via legislation and regulation will cost them your votes."

      You really think the masses care? Or that they might be prepared to "waste" their vote on some no hoper 3rd party? The DepReps have enough core support to stop that ever happening and on this they are united.

      1. Shooter

        Re: It's quite simple don't blame the player, vote to change the game.

        @ John Brown

        Last election I - quite deliberately - wasted my vote on some "no hoper 3rd party" candidate. I had not the slightest delusion that he stood any chance of winning. I was merely hoping that there would be enough like-minded people to make a noticeable increase in overall third party results, thereby giving the big two something to think about.

        Needless to say, I was disappointed.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: It's quite simple don't blame the player, vote to change the game.

          "thereby giving the big two something to think about."

          ...and therein lies the rub. Politicians don't think like that. A win is a win and as far as they are concerned, gives a total mandate for all of their policies, and screw anyone who voted otherwise. Just look at our Brexit vote. The result was almost close enough to be within the bounds of statistical error, yet the Government is running full steam ahead with almost no consideration for the almost half of the population who didn't want Brexit at all. You can't please all of the people all of the time, but some nod towards opponents when their "minority" is so large would be something most normal would would take into account.

        2. Swarthy

          Re: It's quite simple don't blame the player, vote to change the game.

          @ Shooter

          I also "wasted" my vote on a 3rd party "no-hoper" for pretty much the exact same reasons, but I was not disappointed. There was a noticeable increase in 3rd party results, and almost 10-fold increase from the previous election. But as John said in reply, politicians just don't think like that; and in the current political climate, one could argue that they don't think at all. A win is a win, and the other guy is Evil. The Well of Discourse has been poisoned to the point that our political dialog has become a duologue - "Us" and "Them". Okay so it's really two monologues, and anyone trying to "Yes, but..." is immediately cast out as one of "Them".

          It makes me sad.

        3. JLV

          Re: It's quite simple don't blame the player, vote to change the game.

          >"no hoper 3rd party" candidate

          >Needless to say, I was disappointed.

          Careful with your votes. The road to Trump was paved with assumptions and protest votes.

    3. MonkeyCee

      Re: It's quite simple don't blame the player, vote to change the game.

      "cost of breaking the law < the profit then a for profit company must do it to maximize shareholder value or they risk a minority shareholder lawsuit."

      I'm not certain you've thought that through. I'm fairly sure you cannot sue to force a company to make more profit by illegal means.

      1. JLV

        Re: It's quite simple don't blame the player, vote to change the game.

        >a for profit company must do it to maximize shareholder value or they risk a minority shareholder lawsuit.

        There's a question about just that under StackExchange Skeptics.

        https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/8146/are-u-s-companies-legally-obligated-to-maximize-profits-for-shareholders

        I think it boils down: corporations can't disregard shareholder interests (and, nor should they, that would make them even more prone to aim to maximize exec bonuses instead). But maximizing profits is not expressly mandated, as some claim. Esp not wrt to doing it by breaking the law in some form.

        There was a bit of a shareholder revolt against the execs of the Epipen manufacturer recently for example, though it could be argued they had certainly pushed the envelope on maximizing profits.

        Risking a lawsuit by shareholders is not quite the same as having a reasonable expectation that those shareholders would win that lawsuit. There is plenty of scope for corporate and executive malfeasance already, no need to invent stuff.

        Last, shareholders' and the larger public's interests are not necessarily that far apart: limiting executive pay and bonuses should be a natural goal for shareholders in a well-functioning market.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: It's quite simple don't blame the player, vote to change the game.

          "Last, shareholders' and the larger public's interests are not necessarily that far apart:"

          Yes they are: Shareholders make every penny they make by stealing it from larger public and therefore their interests are exact opposites.

          Stopping the CEO and his buddies to steal everything from shareholders (not the public) is totally irrelevant from larger public point of view: None of that money is ever returned to the public regardless of the level of the stealing.

          1. JLV

            Re: It's quite simple don't blame the player, vote to change the game.

            You must have missed the part where your retirement depends on investment returns ;-) Including that of investments run by your government on behalf of the general retiree pool, if you are not directly investing yourself.

            Look, I am not claiming that corporations are snow-white. But the very notion of workers require the presence of employers. Who can't all be public sector and non-profit, otherwise, there'd be no tax revenue, would there? Corporations are one mechanism for ownership. They need not abuse the public any more than a private business owner is required to screw his employees, although the lack of individual responsibility does make it easier for them to act unethically if they don't run the risk of penalties.

            Absolutist positions make it easy to ignore the need for reforms. Right now, at least in economies like the US, the UK and to a lesser extent Canada, it is acceptable for CEOs, not founders, to be remunerated in the tens of millions, 300x their average worker pay, whether or not their companies outperform their peers. That's because they have a huge say in how their pay package "needs to be competitive". Other market economies, esp in Scandinavia, tend to have a social contract that says "<5-10 M$ OK, but no more". That's already a heck of a lot, mind you, but nowhere as obscene as what we are seeing in some cases. Remember the post-bailout bank bonuses in the US, paid for by the taxpayer funded relief to failing banks? I do.

            Sorry, but your baying at the moon ain't gonna convince too many lawmakers you have a valid point, dear ;-)

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's quite simple don't blame the player, vote to change the game.

      "Any citizen complaining against Google is complaining to the wrong entity, if you want privacy to be a right you need to let your politicians know that not protecting your privacy via legislation and regulation will cost them your votes."

      Votes are totally irrelevant in this game, it's a game of money. And it's very simple: You don't have any money, Google has a lot.

      Therefore Google buys the laws as they want and your voting doesn't change anything, ever. _Every one representative will be bought immediately_. Combine that to basically permanent seats and it is very, very cheap for Google to do that, they'll get tens of years of service out of one paid congresscritter. Ref: Hollywood-Hollings.

      That means that the Google, entity writing the laws in practise, is exactly correct target for complaining.

  6. bombastic bob Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    I don't use a cell phone to pay so...

    I don't use a cell phone to pay, so HOW could they track ME?

    If they're using my financial data, such as purchases online, to track me in stores, then that falls under the FTC's requirements for banking transactions and privacy. I think there's both disclosure AND "opt out" in this one. I've opted out with my banks and so I don't expect they'd be able to do this LEGALLY with me...

    However, if their "partners" disclose debit card information to google [for ad reasons], AND you purchase stuff at stores that have 'partnerships' with google, then perhaps they CAN track your purchases.

    These 'partnerships' should be disclosed. Then I'll know who NOT to use a debit card with.

    I can still use cash. I don't have to identify myself with cash. Maybe it's time to do that.

    1. ST Silver badge
      Pirate

      Re: I don't use a cell phone to pay so...

      > I don't use a cell phone to pay, so HOW could they track ME?

      Let's forget Amazon for now, because they have their own sinister and insane Big Brother Is Watching You machinery.

      Here's an experiment you could run. The results of this experiment would be more obvious if you were running it on a slow machine. Read below, and you'll understand why.

      Whenever you buy something online, watch the lower left-hand corner of the Firefox browser window. It will display all the sites the online merchant you're buying from redirects to, silently, stealthily and without your knowledge. One of these sites will always be blablabla.google-analytics.com.

      The slower the box you're testing this on, the easier it will be to read the names of the spy sites monitoring you.

      That's Google's Big Brother tracking what you buy, how much you spent, how you paid. etc.

      Yes, this should stop. It has nothing to do with advertising. It's Google deputizing online merchants to use your web browser as spyware.

      But something tells me it won't stop anytime soon.

      P.S. I refuse to use the black helicopter icon.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        @ST -- Re: I don't use a cell phone to pay so...

        I see very little, but then I'm running this http://someonewhocares.org/hosts/ in Windows 7. It blocks a ton of crap coming down the pipe at me and also crap being sucked from PC to the advertisers.... notably Google.

        1. ST Silver badge

          Re: @ST -- I don't use a cell phone to pay so...

          @Mark85:

          I gave up fighting because I really think this war is lost.

          Yes, I can spend time blocking domains but in final analysis it's a game of whack-a-mole. Google can easily and constantly invent new non-descript domain names to plant their new and improved spyware in a browser. I just don't have the time to keep track of all of them.

      2. Magani
        Black Helicopters

        @ST - Re: I don't use a cell phone to pay so...

        If you use NoScript (and Ghostery??), you can selectively see, and subsequently block, all the hangers-on who follow your progress through Interweb-land. Even our illustrious Vulture Central uses google-analytics.com and I block it everywhere.

        Someone has to use the black helicopter...

      3. Updraft102

        Re: I don't use a cell phone to pay so...

        Adblockers or script blockers (NoScript) will show all of this too, only you don't have to be fast to see it. And you can block the ones you don't like... Google Ad Services, Google Analytics, Google Tag Services, etc., are always blocked on my devices. Facebook.* and all of the other major social media sites are as well. I don't block Google, Disqus, etc., completely, as they are useful to me, but I clear cookies often and watch what I am doing while signed in.

        I also don't have a smart phone, so there's that. From what I understand, Google having access to location data from an Android device is what makes the spying in the article ^^^ work. If Google shows you an ad for a Super Widget, then they record you going to a brick and mortar store that day by means of the device's GPS, and they can correlate the time a person leaves the store (a minute or two after check out) and the time on a person's credit card purchase at that same store, they can begin to think that the person they tracked is the one with the credit card data they have. After a few more matches like that, they know it's you.

        Now, if they have the contents of the receipt collected from the store, they can just look through it and find the purchase, now that they have linked that entire transaction to a given person. If not, they can look at the total purchase price, take out the sales tax if applicable (thinking of the US here; I have no idea how taxes work in other countries), and see if the total spent matches with what that store's selling price for the item was that day. Naturally, that is more likely to work with big-ticket items like a TV, and not so much with a candy bar or other such item that is quite unlikely to be the only item purchased, and that may come in several size/price configurations.

        I think that if you do your browsing on a desktop as I do, there's not going to be any way to link me to my brick and mortar purchases without using my name specifically as an identifier (which I do my best to make hard for them). If they only get anonymized credit card metadata, how can they link "This person spent $103.50 at the Target on 5th and Main in Everytown, USA on 5/21/17 at 3:30 pm" with... well, anything? They need that location data to show someone walking out of that same store at 3:32 pm on that day (and a series of other such matches to establish that it is in fact the same person). It all depends on just what data they get from the credit card companies (though I would be shocked if they were not also trying to get similar deals with the major retailers like the one in my example).

        1. Pompous Git Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: I don't use a cell phone to pay so...

          "If Google shows you an ad for a Super Widget, then they record you going to a brick and mortar store that day by means of the device's GPS, and they can correlate the time a person leaves the store (a minute or two after check out) and the time on a person's credit card purchase at that same store, they can begin to think that the person they tracked is the one with the credit card data they have. "
          Sounds plausible but... My ad-blocking isn't perfect; doesn't need to be any more than enough to prevent my becoming irritated by them. The ads I do see can't possibly affect my buying. Simply, the ads are for stuff I recently bought. I purchased a TV not so long ago, they seem to need replacing very 10-15 years. Likely I won't remember the ads I consequently saw a decade ago when we next need to purchase one. Even the magnesium chloride bath salts I purchased last week will (hopefully) last a year. Now I'm getting ads for them in Ookla!

          PS: If the commentard who recommended transdermal Mg for my osteoarthritis is reading this: "your blood's worth bottlin'!

        2. Dagg

          Re: I don't use a cell phone to pay so...

          >I also don't have a smart phone, so there's that.

          I have a smart phone but it spends most of the time set to dumb mode with everything but phone turned off (Well I hope it is) big advantage is 10 days worth of battery life.

          Only time the wifi ever gets is turned on is local pub and home

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I don't use a cell phone to pay so...

      If Google itself (or more likely some innocuously named subsidiary of Google) is a partner, then your opt out means nothing. Bet if you dig around you would find they are partners with Visa and Mastercard, or the payment processors, or the large banks - so they will get your transactions regardless.

  7. Slow Dog
    Stop

    Avoid being sold out.

    Take all the steps you can to stop marketers from monetizing your use of technology. Avoid social media and stop tracking in your browser. Block scripts. Harden your PC and your mobe. Do not expect anything out there to be free. Run away instead. Be careful who you interact with in cyberspace. Know what you are doing.

    Marketers are counting on the fact that you will do none of the above while happily enjoying that failbuckian flash mob game. Pokes, anyone? If you must do business online, make sure it is private and not being monetized or hijacked.

    Know that marketers are not your friend. If anything, they are your worst nightmare. A product that is worthy of having will have brisk sales without ads since word of mouth will suffice based on reputation and user experience.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Avoid being sold out.

      Just what I have been saying for years (hence the AC)

      Google is EVIL pure and simple.

      Don't use them for search unless it is via an anonmyising front end (the same goes for Bing)

      Don't use the same Credit or Debit card for all your purchases. Have ones from different banks as well.

      Use CASH for all small purchases, typicall less than £10.

      I use Cash for pretty well everything except Petrol and as I use the same Filling Station 90% of the time, they can't get much in the way of where I drive except that now that I have a PHEV and charge it at home, I buy a lot less than I used to.

      Harden your PC, use different browsers for general browsing and shopping. Clear the history, cache and cookies after each purchase.

      Use different email accounts esp throw away ones. Then you can tell who is selling your details on.

      If you run a business then keep its emails on a totally separate domain from your personal ones.

      Some of these prevention measures cost money (eg email hosting) but it gives you peace of mind.

      Sure, you can still be tracked and probably in time, the EVIL Google A.I. will join all the dots but at the moment make it hard for the likes of EVIL GOOGLE to track you. Make them have to work hard to join all the dots.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Avoid being sold out.

      You're still a creature of habit, you still have regular patterns and that's the latest "battleground". They can spot people buying similar items in the roughly same set of shops, even using cash they can still spot you by way of your habits.

      Getting "off grid" is getting harder and harder. Move regularly, change your routines often, change your lifestyle regularly and you may stand a chance of keeping "Big Brother" from seeing what you're doing. If you eat, breathe, cough, shit or fart then they'll track you some how...

    3. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Passible advantage of Google's tracking

      What if Google's data proves that adverts to not increase sales?

  8. Daggerchild Silver badge

    Throw 22

    "Google's assurance that it can protect privacy ... cannot be verified because Google has not disclosed details about its technology or its third-party partners and does not allow independent auditing."

    Heh. "We cannot prove Google cannot protect your data because nobody can get at it!"

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Throw 22

      Ah.. the old fox protecting the henhouse problem...

      1. Daggerchild Silver badge

        Re: Throw 22

        Yeah, but it's a fox-built, fox-tested, fox-proof henhouse. Can better be built?

        Nobody knows what goes on inside. And, isn't that .. the point?

  9. Planty Bronze badge

    Yawn

    EPIC must be the latest Microsoft hydra...

  10. Kev99

    There's this little option in Firefox and other browsers accessible by pressing CTRL-SHIFT-DEL. It whacks all of your browsing history. You can also set most browsers to clear all caches when you close them. Not so hard.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Not so hard."

      Not so smart.... In-browser only tracking was replaced long ago... The precarious progression starter as far back as Adobe Flash cookies over a decade ago. They couldn't be deleted w/o Adobe Applet or Windows Explorer purging. After which Browser Signature / OS config became almost universally adopted by trackers. Its almost impossible to avoid being fully tracked now... But only low hanging fruit types rely on cookies / cached sessions:

      ~~~~~~~~

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/08/07/eff_privacy_badger_anti_tracking_browser_plugin/

      https://panopticlick.eff.org/

      http://www.adotas.com/2011/08/hulu-caught-respawning-cookies-as-etags-enter-tracking-fray/

  11. whoseyourdaddy

    Well, you steal the JAVA API from Oracle...

    Hmm... Nothing could go wrong there...

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Soz guys, I haven't seen one of your ads in the better part of a decade. While I used to think Google's own advert systems were nice and less intrusive, their increasingly perverse behaviors led me to make an exception to my own 'reasonable advertising' policies...

  13. Chris G Silver badge

    Google: We take privacy very seriously

    Of course you do it's worth a lot of money to you.

    Run member folks 'Cash is king'.

  14. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Flame

    "Google's refusal to disclose its partnerships with data brokers"

    Is unacceptable. Knowing who they deal with is not knowing what they give, so there is no privacy impact.

    Google should come clean on this point, no discussion.

  15. fandom

    I don't buy it

    You read this kind of stories and it sound like Google have some kind of almost magican machine that knows all about us.

    But then let's look about how it works in real life*. These are real life examples.

    So I hear about how they can make real diamonds in labs, I spend some time looking it up just out of curiosity, for a couple of months I get diamonds ads while browsing.

    I put up a teleobjective up for sale at Amazon's sellers market, for a couple of months a get Amazon ads for camara lenses.

    I put some old stuff up for sale at eBay, while I am writing these I get an eBay ad showing articles up for sale, some of them my own.

    Really, it's all so incompetent I can't buy the Google, or Facebook, all knowing stance, the main reason Google don't tell about their technology is because they are conning advertisiers into thinking they have it.

    *Yes, yes, I KNOW! those of you with mad 1337 skills use ad blockers and don't know what I am talking about.

    1. Mage Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: I don't buy it

      The fact that their system (Amazon, EBay, Google, Facebook) is rubbish at serving appropriate adverts is irrelevant. I agree their algorithms are poor.

      The issues are privacy and someone making money out of my personal information. Not how expert they are at serving the correct adverts.

      Edit see also

      https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/aug/01/data-browsing-habits-brokers

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: I don't buy it

        "The issues are privacy and someone making money out of my personal information. Not how expert they are at serving the correct adverts."
        Privacy is almost non-existent in our Western society. The promised business performance gains to be had from computerisation never materialised; rather, the reverse happened. Why? Because most of what business does with computers is provide data for government so they can tax us "better". It's government that's making huge amounts of dough out of us. What Goggle and Farcebook make is small beans in comparison.

    2. Pompous Git Silver badge

      Re: I don't buy it

      "Really, it's all so incompetent I can't buy the Google, or Facebook, all knowing stance, the main reason Google don't tell about their technology is because they are conning advertisiers into thinking they have it."
      Bingo! Have an upvote :-)

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      How it Really Works in Real Life

      "These are real life examples.

      So I hear about how they can make real diamonds in labs, I spend some time looking and I get shampoo ads while browsing.

      I put up a teleobjective up for sale at Amazon's sellers market, for the whole time I get multiple shampoo ads on each page.

      I put some old stuff up for sale at eBay, while I am writing these I get more shampoo ads than a TV commercial ."

      FTFY. Google Ads working as expected and Get Your Very Own Shampoo Now! For Only $x.xx!!!!

  16. msknight

    Personally....

    ...I believe that the reason that Google doesn't want to reveal how this works... is because it probably doesn't.

    I've been on YT for nearly a decade and the stats are absolutely laughable.

    Smoke and mirrors.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: Personally....

      You're right, Google is comparing apples with oranges, to tell its gullible customers the crap it sells is gold.

      How it can really match off-line purchases with adverts is something it should really show... because it smells of cheating.

      My take is more and more buyers are questioning the real value of online ads, and Google has to pretend they really work, or the golden eggs chicken dies.

      I'm just glad anyway I live in a country where those data cannot be sold (for now....)

      1. Not also known as SC

        Re: Personally....

        I want to buy a new guitar so I search for guitars using Google and in the process they serve up some adverts in response to my search. If I then go to a physical shop to buy the guitar, Google will then claim that I bought it at that location because of the adverts they served reactively to my search?

        If marketeers believe this then they deserve to be taken to the cleaners by Google. Unfortunately the consumer then pays for their stupidity in higher product costs.

        1. sebt
          Facepalm

          Re: Personally....

          "If marketeers believe this then they deserve to be taken to the cleaners by Google."

          Don't know about you, but I've never met anyone in Marketing (or, as someone wonderfully called it, the "colouring-in with crayons" Department) who wasn't well back in the queue when brains were being handed out.

          Google is stealing sweets off a baby here.

  17. Mage Silver badge
    Coat

    Touching, contactless

    "And it came to pass that noone could buy or sell without registering all the details with the beast"

    1. Mystic Megabyte
      WTF?

      Re: Touching, contactless

      Only yesterday I discovered that I cannot use the BBC's iPlayer to listen to *radio* without registering.

      As I don't have a TV it's goodbye BBC!

  18. adam payne

    "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."

    Yes very seriously until someone shows them the money.

  19. luminous

    A company should not be allowed to claim that they care about privacy when it's opt-out.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  20. Fihart

    stick with cash

    More evidence that our privacy and in the long run, perhaps our liberty, at stake.

    Minimise use of credit cards, don't use payments via phone on near field. Whenever possible use high street stores and pay by cash -- and no loyalty cards.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The young lady in the picture looks very nice indeed.

    Could someone please pass on my compliments to her?

  22. Milton

    Desperate to prove ads work?

    Google's apparent desperation to prove its ads are effective might in part be due to an awareness that in fact .... they aren't. I surely cannot be even the 10 millionth internet user to have observed that ads come in exactly two flavours:

    1. Months out of date, because I searched for (DuckDuckGo, Amazon, online retail sites etc) and bought what I wanted without going anywhere near Don't Be Evil's services, and have been seeing ads trying to sell the same thing to me ever since, and

    2. Hopelessly, witlessly irrelevant: shitty newsboy caps, nasty cosmetics, crappy slippers, a dog's breakfast of consumer tat that I wouldn't order even if it were free.

    Precisely who is this avalanche of almost universally lousy advertising supposed to be working on? I'd be interested to see an independent, scientifically-conducted study of internet advertising, connecting ad views to subsequent purchases, because I'm not naive enough to believe a word that Google says.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Desperate to prove ads work?

      Precisely who is this avalanche of almost universally lousy advertising supposed to be working on?

      Twenty-something idiot women. They seem to have an endless desire for cheap tat.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Robust controls

    "Robust" seems to be the latest political buzzword.

    "Users have robust controls – we only use data that they’ve consented to have associated with their Web and App activity in their Google account, which users can opt-out of at any time"

    As a Google account holder, I'd like to know where these supposed robust controls are - have they been quietly added to my account somewhere, with me opted in by default?

    I have in fact never consented for any of this to happen. That they allow provision in the EULA to make changes as and when they please doesn't change this fact.

  24. ForthIsNotDead

    I purchased a stereo on Sunday

    Is "stereo" a bit old-hat these days?

    Hifi. I bought a hifi on Sunday in Currys/PC World. It was a completely spontaneous decision - there was no prior web searching or web research or anything like that. I went in for a TV stand, and came out with a TV stand and a hifi. It's a very nice dinky JVC model with a valve pre-amp and traditional power amp.

    At the checkout you are of course asked for your name, address, email address, blood group, religious affiliation, political affiliation, sexual orientation, number of children, home-owner or renter, and would you like breakdown cover on that. By an 18 year old with a hangover and love-bites.

    Fast forward to today, and I'm getting ads in my browser trying to flog me a JVC hifi.

    1. David Nash

      Re: I purchased a stereo on Sunday

      And of course they want to email your receipt to you..even shirt shops and halfords want to do that now.

      That's a bit of a dilemma because I habitually lose receipts that I would rather keep, and the house is a mess with the pesky things so it would be handy. However not really a dilemma. I just say no.

      BTW, "stereo", "HiFi"? If you're explaining it to the kids I think you mean "bluetooth speaker for my phone"

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon
        Mushroom

        Re: I purchased a stereo on Sunday

        I deliberately registered an obnoxious email address for this very reason. If I'm asked for my email address I tell them that they really don't want to know.

        If they insist I then tell it to them.

        In fact, the most surprising thing was that I was allowed to register 'suck-my-hairy-balls@...'* in the first place.

        *This isn't the exact email address of course, I wouldn't be *that* silly :)

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How it works?

    Rough guess?

    Search online for TV

    GPS / WIFI on phone track you to TV shop

    Last 4 digits of card matched with another record they have (Credit Agencies / Google "Shops" / affiliated businesses)

    BINGO!

  26. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Well I hope they do a better job of it than whoever does your targeted advertising. I have no idea what any of that crap is that your article's web page is showing me.

  27. heyrick Silver badge

    Bullshit

    "Users have robust controls – we only use data that they’ve consented to have associated with their Web and App activity in their Google account, which users can opt-out of at any time."

    I now watch stuff on YouTube using the preview function of one of the YouTube downloader apps. Why? Because if I'm in the mood for watching something stupid (parkour fails, for instance) on a machine where I am not signed in, I do not want Google to suggesting this to me on other devices. What's worse is that since I wasn't signed in, they have obviously used some other metric to associate the IP address with me (phone GMail auto fetch, perhaps) and since I wasn't signed in there is no way to remove such things from my watch history (not that that ever changed much). Google's accessible history is woefully incomplete and a few moments of thought will indicate that they're holding information on each of us that is not included in their "robust controls" (DPA violation? aren't we supposed to be able to request a copy of all data held on us?).

  28. hoola Silver badge

    The yoof of today (and a bit older)....

    The underlying issue with all the companies involved in this sort of information gathering is that they do not give a flying rat-arse about it. As long as all sorts of magic happens and their phones constantly bing, beep and fart with incoming shite they are happy. Who uses that information is beyond them and something that they simply are no interested in. Passwords are all cached or "Managed" by Apple, Google or whoever.

    Loyalty cards and points everywhere and constantly broadcasting their location and current bowel state if just the world. Those of us who really understand and care about this are becoming the minority. So many of these big organisations are run by ego-maniacs who specialise in recruiting from the generation that makes them the money. Where else is this going to go?

    Only when there is some catastrophic meltdown will the reality come home. At that point most people will be stuffed as their lights won't turn on, their phone will not work, the taxi will not turn up and they will not be able to buy anything.

    Frankly I just cannot understand why I would want a light bulb, fridge or boiler connected to the Internet so that I can "Manage" it.

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: The yoof of today (and a bit older)....

      "Frankly I just cannot understand why I would want a light bulb, fridge or boiler connected to the Internet so that I can "Manage" it."

      Convenience, I suppose. There will surely be somebody along to attempt to justify how leaving work an hour early in the winter should entitle them to tweak the heating timer to the house is cosy warm when they arrive...

      ...however the deplorable state of security and the apparent need to keep talking to the mothership (as in devices that fail to function if disconnected) mean that the only way to trust such hardware is if you're there to keep a watch on it, which pretty much defeats the purpose.

      I'm with you here - I have "survived" somehow most of my life without all this stuff being connected to the world, somehow I imagine I might be able to go a little bit longer with the only connectivity my fridge has bring the mains lead... It'll be hard, I know, but I can do it. I can resist the need to check the optimum temperature of my cola cans thirty times a day...

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I keep coming back to this article

    Don't think I've read it yet.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lying scumbags

    "Google's assurance that it can protect privacy while linking offline purchases with online behavior,"

    This is just pure bullshit because Google CEO tells everyone that 'Privacy is dead'.

    And he means it, literally: Google will do _nothing at all to protect anyone's privacy, ever_. They are just trying to bullshit their way out of court.

    Even this page has "googletagservices" as Google's spying script.

  31. ken jay

    crap internet systems

    advertisers are the scum of the country, they hate us users who use adblock or ublock origin and just tell us WE ARE WRONG to hide hell. can we not just get a universal way to deny those people from making money from us and pass the money to us rather than a wanker who can afford 1 million cookies.

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