If you have a Gmail account, Google keeps a running history of your online purchases. All the articles I’ve read explain that Google gets the data from emails, mostly from purchase receipts sent to the user’s account. Google itself adds that data comes from “orders placed using Google services, like Google Play Store, Google Express, or through the Google Assistant.” That implies that data may also be saved in these other Google services. It also appears to pick up purchases made in a store when an email receipt is requested or automatically supplied.
Google says that it does not use the purchase data to serve ads. That begs the question of why it is saving the data. Yes, it may be a convenient reference for the user, but most don’t seem to know it exists. I didn’t until I started reading these articles a few days ago.
I looked at my purchase history (search Google Purchases to find it) and here’s what I found. It is a record of my online purchases on a month-by-month basis that is accurate but not complete. For instance, I “buy” a lot of e-books. Most of them come from Kindle Unlimited. Technically, I pay for the KU subscription, which is listed in my purchase history, but the books have no purchase price. I also subscribe to one e-book listing that offers free books, mostly from new authors or new series. Only a few of those “free” books are listed even though I get a purchase receipt for each one. I delete those receipts as soon as I see them, so that may be the answer.
I found that when I clicked on the shopping cart icon beside the purchase it gave a complete summary of the purchase including detailed pricing information. At the bottom of each entry is a Remove Purchase command. I tried it. The user must View the Email and then physically delete it on the email page in order to remove the entry. The entry doesn’t disappear immediately, but when I closed and reopened the page, the entry was gone. What is interesting is that deleting the receipt email from my regular inbox does not always delete the item from the purchase history. If there is any email in my inbox relating to that purchase, it appears on the listing. If I have kept my email box clean and there are no remaining emails, the item appears to disappear from the purchase history. There does not appear to be any way to delete the entire purchase history; the user has to clean it up one item at a time. In its original article, CNBC said the purchase history was hard to delete and I can attest to that.
According to Business Insider, it’s impossible to stop this tracking but the user can limit its use. Doing so affects Google Search and other services. For instance, I use the Google News app on my mobile phone. Google knows that I invariably click on articles about data privacy and security, so it sends me more of those. I find that useful. There is also an advantage to remaining signed in to Google because search provides more relevant results like “near me,” which is very useful when searching for a product or service.
I have no pat answer to the conundrum raised by this information. Google is keeping a wealth of data on users without the knowledge of most of them. It assures us that it is not selling that data to third parties. It is encouraging us to stay signed in to our Google account in order for the data to make its own services more relevant and helpful.
Each user must answer the question about whether the benefit is worth any loss of privacy they perceive. Just do it on an informed basis. Read the descriptions on Settings on all of your services and when there is something like a Learn More option be sure to click on it and further inform yourself. The knowledge you acquire may make you feel safer as you travel the web.