It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the internet, and mainly Google, tracks everything you do. But the company’s latest tracking schemes demonstrate the extent to how Google is harvesting our privacy.
This week, a class action lawsuit was launched against Google in the UK. The group, named Google You Owe Us, wants compensation for millions of people who believe they have had their data unlawfully collected by the US tech giant.
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Google was allegedly collecting data from iPhones by bypassing default privacy settings on the phone’s browser, Safari, in what is being called the Safari Workaround. The company’s algorithms supposedly tracked the Apple smartphones into releasing personal data from the browser.
And, as is also a truth universally acknowledged, Google uses personal information to sell advertising to companies. In 2016, the company made $80bn from ad revenues. The campaign group says 5.4m UK citizens may have been affected by Google’s data tracking.
Richard Lloyd, the former executive director of the independent consumer body, Which?, is leading the lawsuit in the UK.
“I believe what Google did was simply against the law. Their actions have affected millions and we’ll be asking the courts to remedy this major breach of trust,” said Lloyd. “Through this action, we will send a strong message to Google and other tech giants in Silicon Valley that we’re not afraid to fight back if our laws are broken.”
Law firm Mischcon de Reya, which specialises in large-scale litigation and campaigns, is supporting the legal action. The firm’s partner, James Oldnall, who is acting in the case, said:
“As data has quickly become an important new currency in the information environment and is very valuable to large corporations, it is important consumers find methods – such as this representative action – that can effectively police the rights given to them by parliament.”
This isn’t the only privacy case Google is facing. Here are some of the others to take note of.
Collecting location data
Last week, Quartz revealed that Google has been tracking the location data of Android customers. This may sound pretty standard, but the catch is it’s been doing it when those customers have location services disabled and even without a sim card.
Quartz says this demonstrates that Google has access data about individuals’ locations and their movements, far beyond a reasonable consumer expectation of privacy.
Google’s response is that it doesn’t use the location data it collects through this service. However, its ad policy allows advertisers to target consumers using location data.
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The regulators have taken stock of this. South Korea’s Communications Commission (KCC) has said it is launching an inquiry into the matter. As well, the UK’s information commissioner’s office also said it was in contact with Google over the tracking system.
Collecting retail data
Earlier this year, Google began the rollout of its new Store Sales Measurement programme to track in-store, offline, retail purchases. This allowed the company to collected debit and credit-card transactions. Using partnerships with its ad clients, Google now has access to 70 percent of all US card transactions.
The aim is to use this data to determine the number of sales generated by digital ad campaigns, to inform advertisers’ decision making.
A Washington D.C-based private rights group filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to stop the programme.
The Electronic Privacy Information Centre, known as Epic, said:
“Epic’s complaint asks the FTC to stop Google’s tracking of in-store purchases and determined whether Google adequately protects consumer privacy. Epic’s recent complaint against Google notes that the company is seeking to extend its dominance of online advertising to the physical world.
How can I stop Google tracking me?
If you’re concerned about Google tracking you, there are ways to deal with it. Visit My Activity in your Google account. From here you can delete your history and turn off tracking in Activity Controls.