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Google uses Gmail to track everything you buy online

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Google is keeping tabs on all your online purchases by tracking receipts that are emailed to your Gmail account. 

Google’s purchase history page was brought to public attention in a CNBC report, though it’s been there for at least year as part of a Google Assistant feature update

Depending on when a user set up their Gmail account, the list of purchases, including those not from Google, can date back several years, covering subscriptions, movie and music purchases, and anything bought online where the receipt was sent to that Gmail account. 

The Purchases information is part of a ‘Payments & subscriptions’ page within the Google Account. Google is also collecting data on reservations for flights, hotels, and restaurants from Google Assistant and Gmail.   

The Purchases page says, “Only you can see your purchases”, which include “Your transactions, including deliveries and online orders, gathered from Google services like your Assistant and Gmail.”

Clicking on an item provides details about what the item was, the time of the purchase, the currency it was paid in and the cost. 

There is an option to ‘Remove purchase’, but deleting the item requires deleting the original email it was sourced from. 

This option might not be ideal for anyone who relies on Gmail to keep records of purchases, but doesn’t want purchases to be collated by Google, which notes on a support page that “Information about your orders may also be saved with your activity in other Google services.”

In a statement to CNET, Google said it doesn’t use the Gmail information to target ads. The company stopped scanning email content to tailor ads in 2017, but clearly it still collects data from Gmail for other purposes, such as creating reminders.   

“We don’t use any information from your Gmail messages to serve you ads, and that includes the email receipts and confirmations shown on the Purchase page,” a Google spokesperson said.     

Other sources that Google saves purchases from include Google Play Store, Google Express, and purchases made through the Google Assistant.

Google told CNBC it created the Purchases page “to help you easily view and keep track of your purchases, bookings and subscriptions in one place”.

Google last week announced a revamped version of Google Shopping, which lets consumers buy goods from a retailer’s website, a nearby store, or from Google. The move brings it closer to Amazon’s territory in online sales.   

Google’s senior vice president of advertising and commerce, Prabhakar Raghavan, told CNET last week that Google should use “as little of that data as possible over time” for targeting ads, while still showing people relevant ads.

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