Category Archives: google

Google is Tracking a History of Things You Buy



Google has a sketchy history when it comes to privacy. It turns out that Google has been tracking a history of things you have purchased – even if you bought those things in a store or from Amazon.

CNBC reported that there is a page called “Purchases” that shows a list of the things you have bought. The list can go back for years.

It appears that Google is getting information from people’s Gmail accounts. If you’ve ever had a digital receipt sent to your Gmail account – that information was tracked and saved by Google.

“To help you easily view and keep track of your purchases, bookings, and subscriptions in one place, we’ve created a private destination that can only be seen by you,” a Google spokesperson told CNBC. “You can delete this information at any time. 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.”

While it is good that Google isn’t looking at your Gmail for the purpose to show you ads – that doesn’t make what Google is doing acceptable. It is not clear how long Google has been collecting data about the things people purchase.

It also isn’t easy to find out what information Google has collected about what you have purchased. You can view it here. CNBC reports that there is no way to delete the information in Purchases without also deleting them from Gmail.

Personally, I don’t believe Google is tracking people’s purchases because Google wants users to “easily view and keep track of your purchases, bookings and subscriptions in one place”. Google is collecting data about the things you buy because Google is greedy and doesn’t care that its actions are an invasion of privacy.


UK Government Feeds Alexa and Google Home



Good news for Alex and Google Home users in the UK. The government’s

The head of GOV.UK, Jennifer Allum, said, “We want to simplify people’s interactions with the government, making information clear and accessible to everyone.These results are promising because voice services can be a really convenient way to get information, particularly for people who find computers and phones hard to use.

You can ask Alexa, “When is Brexit?” which she answers accurately, but sadly she doesn’t seem to know who my Member of Parliament is. Then again, Alexa only has useful information…

Photo by Grant Ritchie on Unsplash


European Commission Fines Google €1.49 Billion Over Advertising



The European Commission has fined Google €1.49 billion for abusive practices in online advertising and for breaching EU antitrust rules. According to the European Commission, Google has abused its market dominance by imposing a number of restrictive clauses in contracts with third-party websites which prevented Google’s rivals from placing their search adverts on these websites.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said:

“Today the Commission has fined Google €1.49 billion for illegal misuse of its dominant position in the market for the brokering of online search adverts. Google has cemented its dominance in online search adverts and shielded itself from competitive pressure by imposing anti-competitive contractional restrictions on third-party websites. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules. This misconduct lasted over 10 years and denied other companies the possibility to compete on the merits and to innovate – and consumers the benefits of competition.”

This is the third major penalty that the EU has levied against Google. Last year, Google was fined a record €4.3 billion for abusing its market dominance in mobile. The year before that, Google was fined €2.4 billion for manipulating shopping search results. Google is appealing both cases.

Google posted information about the situation on The Keyword. Google says that, over the past few years, it has made changes Google Shopping, to its mobile apps licenses, and to AdSense for Search in direct response to concerns raised by the European Commission.

Google points out that on Android phones, people have always been able to install any search engine or browser they want. Google has also changed the licensing model for Google apps they build on Android phones, creating new, separate licenses for Google Play, the Google Chrome browser, and Google Search.

Now, Google will “do more to ensure that Android phone owners know about the wide choices of browsers and search engines available to them on their phones.” This will involve asking Android users in Europe which browser and search apps they would like to use.

In short, if you live in the EU, you will benefit from the changes that Google is making. If you live somewhere else – too bad. Google isn’t required to make any changes outside of the EU (in regards to the European Commission’s fines).

It seems clear to me that Google will make changes if it is fined a significant amount of money. I wonder what would happen if the United States government decided to investigate Google (and other big tech companies) to see if they were breaking our antitrust laws. Perhaps it is time for governments to regulate the big tech companies.


Google and Apple Ignore Calls to Remove Absher App



Absher is an app that allows men in Saudi Arabia to track women. The app is used by (at least some) men in Saudi Arabia to control where the women in their life can travel. There have been calls for Google to remove Absher from the Google Play store, but Google is ignoring those requests. Apple has also ignored requests to remove the App Store.

Google has declined to remove from its app store a Saudi government app which lets men track women and control where they travel, on the grounds that it meets all their terms and conditions.

Insider has some details about what the Absher app is and what it can be used for. It is a state-run e-service that contains an online expression of Saudi Arabia’s restrictive male-guardianship laws.

Some of what Absher can be used for include: paying a parking fine, registering a newborn baby, or renewing a driver’s license. All of these options are harmless.

Unfortunately, Absher can also be used by Saudi men to specify when and where women are allowed to fly out of the country. Absher allows the men to grant or revoke travel permission with a few clicks. The app will also send an SMS when a woman uses her passport at a border crossing or airport check-in.

Obviously, the Absher app puts Saudi women in danger. The women who need to escape from abusive situations can be tracked by the app. This will lead to even more violence inflicted upon the woman if she is caught before she can leave the country.

I find it extremely troubling that Google and Apple have so little regard for the safety of women. I strongly suspect that if the app was being used to track men – instead of women – that Google and Apple would rush to remove it. Absher should be removed until the app updates to a new version that does not include the ability to track women.


Google Provided Details About How it Fights Disinformation



Google presented a white paper titled “How Google Fights Disinformation” at the Munich Security Conference. The white paper provides details about Google’s work to tackle the spread of misinformation – across Google Search, Google News, YouTube and their advertising systems.

One thing Google is doing is giving users more context. Here is how they do that:

  • “Knowledge: or “Information” Panels in Google Search and YouTube, providing high-level facts about a person or issue.
  • Making it easier to discover the work of fact-checkers on Google Search or Google News, by using labels or snippets making it clear to users that a specific piece of content is a fact-checking article
  • A “Full Coverage” function in Google News enabling users to access a non-personalized, in-depth view of a news cycle at the tap of a finger
  • “Breaking News” and “Top News” shelves, and “Developing News” information panels on YouTube, making sure that users are exposed to news content from authoritative sources when looking for information about ongoing news events
  • Information panels providing “Topical Context” and “Publisher Content” on YouTube, providing users with contextual information from trusted sources to help them be more informed consumers of content on the platform. These panels provide authoritative information on well-established historical and scientific topics that have often been subject to misinformation online and on the sources of news content, respectively.
  • “Why this ad?” labels enabling users to understand why they’re presented with a specific ad and how to change their preferences so as to alter personalization of the ads they are shown, or to opt out of personalized ads altogether
  • In-ad disclosures and transparency reports on election advertising, which are rolling out during elections in the US, Europe and India as a starting point

Google is also empowering users to let them know when they are getting it wrong by using feedback buttons across Search, YouTube, and Google’s advertising products to flag content that might be violating Google’s policies.

In addition, Google is partnering with outside experts. Some of those experts include:

  • First Draft Coalition (which Google helped launch) – a non-profit that convenes news organizations and technology companies to tackle the challenges around combating disinformation online – especially in the run-up to elections
  • Trust Project (which Google is a founding member of) – explores how journalism can signal its trustworthiness online. The Trust Project developed eight indicators of trust that publishers can use to better convey why their content should be seen as credible, with promising results for the publishers who have trialed them.
  • Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) – a non-partisan organization gathering fact-checking organizations from the United States, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, India, and more.

In regard to political ads, the white paper says: “Finally, in order to help understand the context for the election-related ads they see online, we require additional verification for advertisers who wish to purchase political ads in the United States, provide transparency about the advertiser to the user, and have established an online transparency report and creative repository on US federal elections.”

There are a lot more details in the white paper than I have posted here. Overall, it appears to be a good start at fighting disinformation across Google’s products. Part of the white paper mentions “deep fakes”, which will likely be difficult to combat. Google is clearly aware of how malicious actors could use it, and seems to be at least attempting to get ahead of that.


Google+ Offers Download of Data



Announced back in October, Google+ is coming to an untimely demise on 2nd April, leaving many of us somewhat uncomfortable with the thought of having to move house over to Facebook. Never mind Facebook’s total disregard for privacy, the user interface is complete rubbish…

While Google+ may be ending, Google is making it easy to retrieve information from the service and all users should have received an email giving the details of what needs to be done.

The download and save links to a support page which provides guidance on downloading all your Google+ information, including photos. It’s straightforward to do, but Google does take a few days to assemble the data and make it ready for download. Google then makes the data set available for around a week. I requested the download on 3rd February and received a notification that it was ready on 7th Feb.

Once downloaded, the archive can be unpacked. Google sorts the data into folders relating to your activity on Google+ and provides some additional html files to make browsing the data a little easier. Having said that, if you are only after your pictures, a quick search from a file manager for jpg will get quick results.

My online life with Google+ was quite small at 108 MB, but a friend who was an enthusiastic contributor to the server downloaded several gigs of data.

While it’s sad to see Google+ going away, it’s great to see Google making it easy to retain your Google+ data.


Google Password Checkup Protects Accounts from Data Breaches



How many things is your Gmail account connected to? It is definitely connected to Google+ (which will shut down soon). You might be using your Gmail account as a log in to apps or other websites.

Google says it regularly resets the passwords of Google accounts affected by third-party data breaches in the event of password reuse. According to Google, the strategy has helped protect over 110 million users in the last two years.

Google is now taking password protection one step further. It has created a Password Checkup Chrome extension. When you log into a site (while using the Chrome browser) Password Checkup will trigger a warning if the username and password you use is one of over 4 billion credentials that Google knows to be unsafe.

Obviously, the Chrome extension is only going to work on the Chrome browser. People who use other browsers aren’t going to get any benefit from Password Checkup. One could take a cynical view of this situation and suspect that Google’s main goal is to get more people to switch over to Chrome.

As you may recall, Google has been in the news for doing some very negative things. It recently had its enterprise certificates removed because it used them in a app that sucked up user’s data.

It ended its Project Dragonfly that was, in short, building a censored search engine for China. Google was silent about the bug that exposed private data of hundreds of thousands of Google + users until after the Wall Street Journal reported about it.

There is potential that Password Checkup (which is described as an “experiment” by Google) will improve user’s ability to find out if their username or password is unsafe. I think it will be hard to convince users to trust Google enough to install it.