Have you noticed items that you search for online seem to follow you around the internet? For example, if you're looking into buying a new car and are researching specific models online, later advertisements for that car will pop-up on other sites. It can definitely give you a creepy feeling like you're being watched.
Well, in fact, you are. Sites like Google and Facebook track your online activity so they can provide users with targeted ads. It's getting even creepier. Google now has the ability to track your purchases when you're offline.
How Google is tracking you offline
We found out recently that Google is tracking purchases made by shoppers at brick-and-mortar stores. The tech giant is doing this in an effort to convince companies to buy more digital ads.
Google is able to track these purchases by partnering with companies that track data. Google has access to nearly 70 percent of all credit and debit card transactions in the U.S. through these partnerships.
When this information is matched with ad clicks, it suggests to merchants that digital ads work. So you can probably expect to see more targeted ads in the future.
What's happening now is, a privacy rights group is asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to look into Google's tracking practices. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) will file a complaint with the FTC as early as today.
The complaint alleges that Google is getting access to very sensitive consumer data without revealing how and without giving them a meaningful way to opt out. The group also claims that Google is using a secretive way of protecting consumers' information and it's most likely vulnerable to hackers.
EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg said, "Google is seeking to extend its dominance from the online world to the real, offline world, and the FTC really needs to look at that."
Google claims the risk of a data breach is nonexistent. It said, "Google has invested in building a new, custom encryption technology that ensures users' data remains private, secure and anonymous."
The privacy watchdog doesn't want the government to take Google at its word. Instead, it is calling for a review of Google's security procedures to ensure consumers' information is protected.
What you can do to stop being tracked
This type of tracking feels like more privacy loss. Not only that, but a database of information like this could end up being targeted by hackers. Cybercriminals could potentially get their hands on victims' payment card information, email address, passwords and more.
If the idea of being tracked, even when you're not online, frightens you, you might want to think about opting out. Take the following steps to opt out:
- Go to Google.com
- Click the circle with your initial in the upper-right corner
- Click My Account
- Click Manage your Google activity inside the personal info and privacy box
- Tap Go To Activity Controls
- Slide the toggle to the left next to Web & App Activity - Doing this turns the feature off
Click here to learn how to take control of Google's interest-based ads. It might be the only way to eliminate that feeling of being watched.