Q. This week my smartphone received an alert from Google listing the balances due on my credit cards. My response was “never” do it again, but I have to wonder about my personal financial/identity security. How did they get this information? Is it legal?
A. Many credit card and utility companies send payment reminders by email that include details like the name on the account, the payment amount and the due date. What is probably happening here is that Google is automatically scanning your Gmail messages for notices about package deliveries, flight times, restaurant invitations, and yes — bill reminders — and using the information in smartphone alerts for its Google Now/Google Assistant software.
The Google bill-payment alert should not show the full account number or anything too specific, and should just echo the details contained in the message from the bill sender. If you look at the alert on the Google Now screen, you should see an option to view the original message so you can compare the two. (In the Google app, you can also type in “show me my bills” to see a list of emailed payment notices.) If anything arouses your suspicion, call your credit card companies to confirm your account security.
Google makes no secret of the fact that it collects personal information from you as you partake of its free services like Gmail and Google Search. The company says it uses this data to make its services work better for the people who use them, although the information is also used for targeted advertising.
If you do not want to get bill reminders or other smartphone alerts based on messages sent to your Gmail account, you can adjust your Google app settings to disable the payment notices or turn off the Google Now feed altogether. Open the Google app on your phone, tap the menu icon (or profile photo) in the top-left corner, select Settings and then Your Feed to make adjustments.