Google and Mastercard make a secret shopping tracking deal

    Recently, the article “Welcome to the era of privacy nihilism” was published on Habré , where long-term practices of collecting confidential user data are revealed. These methods have existed for decades, but it is only now that the problem has begun to be actively discussed: Google and Facebook, as major players, have fallen on the critics. At the same time, dozens of information brokers are ready to sell to marketers a database with different information about users. One such broker is Mastercard Corporation. She has very valuable information for Google about users shopping in retail stores.

    It has now become known that select Google advertisers have access to a new tool for about a year, which allowstrack purchases at offline retail stores after displaying relevant advertising on the Internet . More than 2 billion Mastercard cardholders knew nothing about their secret surveillance.

    The deal is still kept secret, it was reported by Bloomberg , citing several sources of information. According to them, Google paid Mastercard millions of dollars for receiving data. In addition, the companies discussed the scheme of advertising revenue from the use of this information.

    Google and Mastercard have been negotiating the deal for about four years, according to four people with knowledge of the deal. Although the sources are anonymous, but the information is reliable: three of them directly worked on this transaction.and know all the details. This collaboration gave Google direct access to evaluating advertising effectiveness through tracking retail purchases. Google's revenues are directly dependent on the accuracy of advertising targeting, so that thanks to the deal, the company gained an advantage over competitors.

    Google and Mastercard Alliance is an example of splicing an online advertising platform with offline data collection. Google can now relate ad impressions and user visits to specific web pages with its coordinates offline. According to a Google Data Collection study, the Android smartphone in sleep mode (with the active Chrome browser in the background) transmits location information to Google 340 times over a 24-hour period, that is, an average of 14 data transfers per hour. In fact, location information accounts for 35% of all data samples sent to Google.

    But the Google and Mastercard deal, which was kept secret, could cause wider user concerns about privacy: “People don’t expect physical shopping at the store to be related to what they buy online,” Bloomberg said in a commentChristine Bannan, Counselor, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). “Companies do not take enough responsibility to inform users about what they do and what rights they have.”

    A Google spokeswoman declined to comment on the partnership with Mastercard, but confirmed the presence of the above-mentioned promotional tool for tracking offline purchases: “Before we launched the beta version of this product last year, we created a new double-blind encryption technology that does not allow Google and our partners view the user's personal information, the company said in a statement. “We do not have access to any personal information from credit and debit cards of our partners, and we also do not share any personal information with them.” The company said that each user can opt out of advertising tracking using the Google Web and App Activity online console. However, it should be noted that for cardholders there is no easy way to refuse tracking.

    A Mastercard spokesman also declined to comment on the Google deal. But he said that Mastercard is sharing transaction trends with stores and service providers to help them measure the "effectiveness of their advertising campaigns." The information includes sales volumes and the average purchase size, it is provided only with the permission of merchants: “No individual transactions or personal data are provided,” a company spokesman said in a statement. “We do not provide analytics that track, show, or even measure the effectiveness of advertising for individual consumers.”

    Store Sales Measurement

    Google launched a beta version of Store Sales Measurement last year. Then she said that she had access to "about 70 percent" of US credit and debit cards through partners, without naming them.

    A figure of 70% could mean that the company is dealing with other credit card companies, not just Mastercard. Or it may mean that 70% of bank card holders include Google accounts, such as Gmail, when they click on search advertising, that is, Google has the ability to link bank card activity to people’s profiles.

    According to two sources, Google turned to another two companies over similar cooperation, but the outcome of the negotiations is unknown. Google representatives confirm that the service applies only to people who have logged into one of their accounts and have not abandoned advertising tracking. According to a report by financial research firm Nilson, purchases using Mastercard cards account for about a quarter of all retail purchases in the United States last year.

    Using the Store Sales Measurement system, you can anonymously map existing user profiles to purchases in physical stores. This is extremely valuable information: after all, Google knows that a particular person has clicked on an advertisement. Thus, now we can tell advertisers that this activity has led to actual sales in stores.

    Now Google is testing the service on a “small group” of advertisers in the US, a spokesman said. With Store Sales Measurement, marketers see cumulative sales figures and an estimate of how much can be attributed to Google ads, but they don’t see buyers ’personal information, how much they spend, or what they are buying. The test is available only to retailers, not to companies that sell products in stores, a spokeswoman said.

    For Google, a deal with Mastercard means an even greater increase in advertising revenue. Advertisers are willing to pay generously in order to gather valuable information about the connection of advertisements with website visits or online purchases. But to obtain information about the actions of the user in offline is incomparably more difficult. This is especially offensive for companies that sell apparently “offline” products, such as clothing or household goods. Buyers often study these goods on the Internet, but go to buy in real offline stores. It is this “information gap” that creates the demand for a new service: “Google must link these activities at the click of a mouse,” said Joseph McConellogue, head of the online retail division at Reprise Digital advertising agency. “Most advertisers seek this integration.”

    First unsuccessful attempt: Google Wallet

    Initially, Google tried to solve the problem using its own solution - the mobile payment service Google Wallet. Part of the original concept was to link clicks on ads with purchases in physical stores. About the true goals of Google (enhancing user tracking) now tell those who worked on the product. But its own payment system has not received enough popularity, so Google began to look for partners. Now a Google spokeswoman says that the billing service has never been used to measure advertising, but this is understandable, because the project has never reached an industrial level.

    Movement tracking

    Since 2014, Google has been showing advertisers if a user who clicks on an ad visits a physical store of the advertiser. This is done using the Location History feature in Google Maps. However, the advertiser so far did not know whether the buyer made the purchase. Therefore, Google has finalized the system. In 2015, a new tool allowed advertisers to upload customers to their e-mail addresses. So you can evaluate the effectiveness of online advertising: Google checks with the profiles and determines how many people have made purchases and whether they used to go through advertising links. In addition, Google buys data from third-party brokers, such as Experian and Acxiom, which provide demographic and financial information for marketers.

    But all these methods did not help too much to increase advertising momentum. Not all stores may connect a list of e-mail addresses to their ads, and information from data brokers is inaccurate or late. But then Google connected the data on purchases from real maps.

    The Store Sales Measurement tool appeared in 2017. It works like this: for example, a girl searches for “red lipstick” on Google, clicks on an advertisement, browses web pages, but does not buy anything. Later she enters the store and buys red lipstick, paying with a Mastercard. After that, the advertiser who launched the ad receives a report from Google, where, among other information, there is an “Offline Revenue” column. Information is entered there only if the user has logged into a Google account and made a purchase within 30 days after clicking on the ad. Advertisers show the percentage of buyers who clicked or viewed an ad and then made a corresponding purchase.

    This is not an accurate list of names and surnames, but still the most powerful tool for linking online advertising with purchases in the real world today.

    For years, Facebook and Google have worked to link their user behavior databases with people's financial data. And gradually, such integration begins to occur.

    The author of the article “Welcome to the era of privacy nihilism” believes that we have already lost the battle for privacy. We are trying to fight for the confidentiality of personal data and are making efforts to stop tracking, but in fact it's too late. The flow of private data comes from a huge number of sources:

    “It's very easy and comfortable to blame Google for the current state of affairs. We create a scarecrow and fight a "villain" who seems to be a worthy enemy. But the true adversary in privacy violations is not a particular villain from the comic, who can be cornered, exposed and conquered. In fact, the true enemy is the misty murk, the soul-chilling Lovecrafty whisper, it is impossible to see it, not to mention touch, not to mention victory. Even the “cloud” is an incorrect metaphor, because pumping gaseous poison only causes a new cold draft from invisible sources. If not sites, then pharmaceuticals. If not location data, then household goods. If not likes, then bank accounts and demographics of areas. Your data is everywhere, and nowhere, and it is impossible to change the situation and avoid what they can do for you.

    ... Ultimately, this is a lost battle. Are you really going to stop using Google? Or leave Facebook? Or stop browsing the web? Or refuse a smartphone? Or disable location services in the settings? Maybe some people are now capable of this for some time, but the reality of modern life will drive them back into these services. In the end, this will become impossible ... It is impossible to give up the benefits of civilization in real life, no matter how many brows frowned and how many tweets published about it. ”

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