A recent article from the Washington Post elaborates on a new, Google-made program being used to track people’s shopping habits. According to the article, the program’s objective is to tie shopper’s online habits and behaviors to their purchases at traditional retailers. A well-known whistleblower and advocate for privacy rights are campaigning the Federal Trade commission to investigate the program, sighting it as immoral and unlawful. Whether or not the program is at legal fault is up to debate.

Online shopping portalThe idea here is straightforward; Google has access to a lot of sensitive information, like credit card purchases and online passwords, and therefore should be discerning with how it uses that information. By holding Google up to scrutiny when it looks to use sensitive data in morally questionable ways, we can ensure the company is more mindful of its user’s privacy going forward. Moreover, it’s often questionable how Google obtained the information in the first place. Google, in particular, has a record of not revealing where their data originates. That paired with the knowledge that Google uses certain processes to prevent their data from being audited places a good deal of suspicion on the company’s intentions, which led to the complaint’s initial filing.

Google’s response seemed indignant, which raises the question as to whether or not what the company is doing is illegal. Surely a multi-million dollar corporation understands the bounds of their position, right? Google calls the methods called to question common– industry standard practices that shouldn’t be drawing so much ire. This statement is likely true, though it does little to quell the concerns people may have with the practice. If this is the industry standard, that only means the problem exists on a larger scale than previously thought. For corporations, this trend is far from a problem; executives across the country have taken to calling the methodology employed here revolutionary. Google’s response claims that they don’t have access to the specific names associated with the cards on file and that the company doesn’t share the information under any circumstance.

The privacy organization calling Google out says the company’s fault lies with the opaqueness in which they inform their userbase. According to the organization, Google hides the information behind walls of text and user license agreements, meaning very few ever learn of their existence. Furthermore, Google is yet to disclose the mathematical formula from which the controversy stems, meaning the process can’t be analyzed at its source.

Whether or not this vagueness equates to fault is to be determined by the FTC, but one thing is sure–the decision will be what sets a precedent for similar cases in the years to come.
Sources:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2017/07/30/googles-new-program-to-track-shoppers-sparks-a-federal-privacy-complaint/