Google’s business relies on gathering information about its users and customers, so the company take every opportunity it can to reap as much data as possible.

As such, it should surprise no one to learn that Google has been using Gmail to keep a record of things you have bought. The existence of the Purchases page was highlighted by CNBC, which points out that Google not only keeps a record of online purchases, but also uses digital receipts to record some offline purchases. You can check out just what Google has recorded about your purchases.

Google hasn’t said why it’s keeping track of users’ purchase information, but there are some pretty obvious reasons for the company to create algorithms that recognise which emails contain purchase information. Ask the Google Assistant (or a Google Home device) “Hey Google, where’s my package?” and it will look in your email to try and find the answer. That helps it compete with Amazon’s Alexa, which provides purchase and package delivery information for Amazon packages.

While the fact that Google has this information may not be surprising, seeing it all in a single place can be a jarring experience.

Google in an attempt to determine what, if anything, the company is doing with this list and if there is way to stop purchases from being aggregated in the future

Google in an attempt to determine what, if anything, the company is doing with this list and if there is way to stop purchases from being aggregated in the future

Google issued a statement saying:

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.  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.

Google’s purchase history page was brought to public attention in a CNBC report, though it’s been there for at least year as part of a Google Assistant feature update.

In a statement to CNET, Google said it doesn’t use the Gmail information to target ads. The company stopped scanning email content to tailor ads in 2017, but clearly it still collects data from Gmail for other purposes, such as creating reminders.

“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,” a Google spokesperson said.     

Other sources that Google saves purchases from include Google Play Store, Google Express, and purchases made through the Google Assistant.

Google told CNBC it created the Purchases page “to help you easily view and keep track of your purchases, bookings and subscriptions in one place”.

Google’s senior vice president of advertising and commerce, Prabhakar Raghavan, told CNET last week that Google should use “as little of that data as possible over time” for targeting ads, while still showing people relevant ads.

What Google knows….

Yes Google collects purchase data, because it always has, and that's not all it collects.

Yes Google collects purchase data, because it always has, and that’s not all it collects.

Google knows about your purchase history, just think about all of the entities that know all of your purchase history, no matter what email app you use. Your bank and your credit card companies, of course. But also every payment vendor (think Visa, Master card, Square, PayPal, Google Pay, Amazon, etc.) you’ve ever used online either directly or through a third-party retailer. And of course every point-of-sale system your card has been swiped, inserted or tapped to. Sure Google knows a whole lot about your purchase history. It’s a good idea to remind yourself of what data Google collects through its various apps and services that you may use

This particular tool is not outright nefarious in an obvious way, but it does highlight Google’s struggle to transparently communicate its privacy policies and ad-tracking methods