Google is using Gmail to track your purchases. No one knows why.

2 min read
Jamie

Jamie is always hungry. He also writes about digital privacy in exchange for sandwiches.

A google shopping cart with the Gmail logo inside the cart.

For almost six years, Google has extracted and stored all purchases, bookings, and subscriptions from your Gmail account. It’s not clear why Google wants this information, and there’s no easy way to delete it all.

How Google tracks your purchases

Initially stumbled across by a CNBC reporter, a “Google Purchases” page keeps track of all digital receipts sent to your Gmail from as far back as 2012.

The page is not limited to purchases made directly from Google, either. From flight tickets to Amazon purchases to food delivery services, if the receipt went to your Gmail, it’s on the list.

Google takes the name, date, and other specifics surrounding the purchase and records them in a list on the page.

Todd Haselton | CNBC

The recorded details can get a little creepy, too. A reporter from Buzzfeed saw Google record specific food requests she added to one of her takeaways.

Buzzfeed | Google

How to delete your Google Purchases

Unfortunately, the only way to remove a purchase from the list is to find and manually delete the email that contains the original receipt. Worse still, you can’t turn off tracking, and there’s no way to delete the list en masse. This process is incredibly tedious, especially given that these lists can go as far back as 2012.

Even more perplexing is that there’s no clear purpose for the collection of this data. A Google spokesperson told CNBC that the page is meant “to help you easily view and keep track of your purchases, bookings, and subscriptions in one place” and that they “don’t use any information from your Gmail messages to serve you ads.”

The logic behind this reasoning is strange, the info is hiding in Google’s Account page, and it’s not exactly easy to access for users who want to “view and keep track of purchases.” And seeing as this page isn’t really being promoted to its users, the hidden nature of this page further begs the question of why Google is really collecting this information.

Google says it cares about privacy—we’re skeptical

Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO,  recently stated that privacy should not be a luxury good, but the company seems to be practicing a different definition of privacy. Google even has the cheek to write “only you can see your purchases” on the Purchases page. Right—only you and the company that combs through your emails to retrieve them.

Until Google decides to make it easier to delete your purchasing information or, even better, to render this function obsolete, consider using an email address with a secure email provider to send all your digital receipts to.

Jamie writes about current issues concerning digital privacy and security and is known to interview leading figures in tech. He also keeps an eye on changes in government censorship and surveillance.