New Brunswick

Cybersecurity expert concerned about Google tracking purchases

A New Brunswick cybersecurity expert says he’s concerned about Google tracking people's purchases. A recent report from CNBC revealed Google was saving information on people’s purchases without consent.

'It is absolutely staggering … to realize just how far how far into everyone's life Google reaches'

Beauceron Security CEO David Shipley. (Jennifer Sweet/CBC)

A New Brunswick cybersecurity expert says he's concerned about Google tracking people's purchases.

A recent report from CNBC revealed Google was saving information on those purchases without consent.

David Shipley, CEO of Fredericton-based Beauceron Security, said he has three worries when it comes to Google tracking purchases — consent, the potential for abuse and the amount of power that tech companies continue to amass.

"When people signed up for GMail years ago, Google never said that someday they're going to do a super-creepy project where they're going to collect all your receipts," Shipley said.

Shipley said people should have been able to choose whether they wanted Google to collect their purchasing information in the first place.

"That's the core of privacy and maintaining our digital rights online."

Last week, CNBC reported Google is keeping track of what Gmail users buy, and has done so for years. As long as the receipt was sent to a Gmail account, the information will be there. Why is it a problem if Google has a list of our buying habits? Cybersecurity expert David Shipley weighs in. 8:15

He said the feature threatens people's right to privacy online and offers an easy way for people to take advantage of others online.

"From an attackers standpoint, if they can hack into your GMail account, they now know where you buy from, and so they can now send scams and targeted attacks specifically to products and services you bought in the past," Shipley said to CBC's Shift.

How Google tracks purchases

Google track purchases that are made electronically. It can also track purchases people make in-store by monitoring electronic copies of  receipts that are sent to your phone through GMail.

"That gives them a staggering amount of influence," Shipley said.

But Google says it doesn't share personal data or purchasing information with advertisers.

"Every Google user can see and control what kinds of data are collected through a tool called My Account, which provides a granular look at your interactions with Google services and allows you to turn off personalized advertising," Google spokesperson Nicole Bell said in an email.

Still, Shipley said the amount of personal information Google can access is concerning.

"It is, from an information, privacy and control standpoint, absolutely staggering to realize just how far into everyone's life Google reaches … If you're using the web, you're touching Google at some point in your day."

Canada brought in a new digital charter on May 21. In it, the government vows to strengthen privacy laws governing private sector corporations.

Shipley said this is a step in the right direction.

"There is a definite bent toward pushing for more informed consent," he said. "It's no where near being close to law yet, but we're starting to see European-like legal considerations for privacy now percolate up here in Canada."