Did You Know Google Is Now Tracking Offline Transactions Through Mastercard?

It took four years but Google solidified a deal to track links between online ads and real-time purchases at U.S. retailers. By linking your online and offline spending Google can curate a more accurate profile of your consumer habits. Read on to learn how this might affect your shopping habits.

On August 30th Bloomberg found Google bought credit card data from Mastercard, they reported it’s possible Google has more ties with the credit sector than just this one partnership.

This news raises questions of privacy and card-holder compensation.

In 2017 Google made over $97.4 billion dollars in advertising. In-store data will enable them to compete with Amazon for more third party advertisers, which we explain here.

Christine Bannan, a representative from the Electronic Privacy and Information Center (EPIC), says “there’s not enough transparency for cardholders who don’t know their financial data is accessed”.

What does this look like?

This technology was put up as a beta product called Store Sales Management. Here’s how it works: say you search lawnmower on Google while logged into a Google account. Then you walk into a store and purchase one with your Mastercard. If you made this purchase within 30 days of seeing the Google ad, the company who ran the advertisement gets an immediate report of the credit transaction.

Google releases a bulk report of percentages of people who viewed ads and made related purchases in that time frame. Both companies say they do not share personal information in this data– you wouldn’t be able to identify the shopper, what they spend, or their exact purchases.

Google built a double-end encryption service for this Store Sales Management software so neither they nor their advertising partners can see personal information. Jules Polonetsky, head of the Future Privacy Forum says the data is so transformed that it would be unrecognizable if ever there was a breach.

Though, as Sophos pointed out, much of this data is “atomized” but once it’s compiled in aggregate you get a pretty good picture of who the buyer could be.

What can you do?

  1. Opt out of web tracking. Change your control and search activity here to decide the data these companies get from you.
  2. Purchase a VPN. Virtual private networks ensure your online activity is not being harvested. FixMeStick recommends HotSpot Shield, Nord, and Express for private browsing at a good price.
  3. Subscribe to our FixMeStick newsletter here to keep up with cybersecurity news so you’re always informed where your data is being shared.