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Over the course of the last year, some Google advertisers were granted access to a new and very effective tool for tracking the conversion rates of adverts. Instead of measuring conversion in terms of clicks, conversions were measured in terms of sales at physical stores across the country. This was made possible when the tech giant bought transaction data from Mastercard.

Ordinarily, this arrangement would not raise any alarms except for the fact that this transaction was not publicly disclosed to the majority of the two billion Mastercard holders.

The Deal Between Google and Mastercard

According to reports, four people with knowledge of the deal told Bloomberg that Google and Mastercard Inc. were able to reach an arrangement after four years of negotiating. This partnership would provide Google with an asset which could be used when measuring retail spending. This is a part of Google’s strategy to solidify itself against competition like Amazon.

And while this deal may be good for both parties involved, the secrecy shrouding the entire affair can lead to larger privacy – like how giant companies absorb consumer data.

According to Christine Bannan, the counsel to the advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC):

“People don’t expect what they buy physically in a store to be linked to what they are buying online. There’s just far too much burden that companies place on consumers and not enough responsibility being taken by companies to inform users what they’re doing and what rights they have.”

Another spokesperson who also spoke with Bloomberg claimed that the deal went through because Google needed the data. Both companies discussed the possibility of sharing the advert revenue with each other.

A spokeswoman talked about the ads tool saying:

“Before we launched this beta product last year, we built a new, double-blind encryption technology that prevents both Google and our partners from viewing our respective users’ personally identifiable information. We do not have access to any personal information from our partners’ credit and debit cards, nor do we share any personal information with our partners.”

In a statement released by the company, they insisted that their customers can choose to opt out of tracking through its Google Web and App Activity console. This did not seem to placate the multiple people who spoke out against the product. Multiple Google employees voiced their opinions saying the application did not have a much easier and obvious way for customers to opt out of the tracking.

When Mastercard spokesperson Seth Eisen gave a statement, he refused to speak specifically on the deal with Google, but he chose to stress the fact that Mastercard shares all transaction trends with its merchants and service providers in a bid to help them track the efficiency of their advertising campaigns:

“The information, which includes sales volumes and the average size of the purchase, is shared only with permission of the merchants. No individual transaction or personal data is provided,” he said. “We do not provide insights that track, serve up ads to, or even measure ad effectiveness relating to, individual consumers.”

The Implications

When Google announced the service which they tagged as “Store Sales Measurement,” they mentioned they had access to about 70% of U.S. credit and debit cards through its partners without directly naming anyone.

By that 70%, it stands to reason that Google has been able to reach deals similar to that it has with Mastercard with other credit card companies. Or it could also mean that they reached deals with companies that work with credit card users and 70% of those users are already logged into Google accounts when they click on a search ad done by Google.

According to two people within the company who are familiar with ‘Store Sales Measurement,’ Google has approached other companies about joining the program, but they could not confirm if they had closed the deals with any of the companies. Google, on the other hand, mentioned that their service applies to only individuals who are logged into its accounts and had yet to opt out of advert tracking.

Through its program, Google will be able to match anonymously existing user profiles to purchases made within physical stores. The result of this means Google will be able to tell who clicked on adverts and tell if those clicks led to actual purchases being made in stores.

Google’s spokeswoman said:

“Google is testing the data service with a “small group” of advertisers in the U.S. With it, marketers see aggregate sales figures and estimates of how many they can attribute to Google ads — but they don’t see a shoppers’ personal information, how much they spend or what exactly they buy. The tests are only available for retailers, not the companies that make the items sold inside stores. The service only applies to its search and shopping ads.”

For the people at Google who support the deal, it lines up perfectly with their grand effort to capture more retail spending. At the moment, advertisers spend a huge sum of money on Google to get actionable and valuable information. Until now, it has been difficult for companies to effectively tell how these adverts affect offline purchase behavior.

This was what drove Google as they strove to find a way for their largest customers to find that connection between their online adverts and sales. Joseph McConellogue who heads online retail for agency Reprise digital said, “Google needs to tie that activity back to a click. Most advertisers are chomping at the bit for this kind of integration.”

But no matter how much Google wants to place a spin on their deal with Mastercard, the whole situation causes many to ask, just how long can big companies like Mastercard and Google continue to sell consumer date without properly informing their users.

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