What’s Google Up to These Days?

Do you ever feel like you were just talking about buying a new phone case with your friend and then while you’re scrolling through your Facebook or Instagram news feed, ads for phone cases start to pop up? Seems creepy right? When you feel like the space between your offline life and your online endeavors is getting a little too thin? Something that has always captivated my interest was the usage of technology and the role it plays for marketing and advertising. Companies spend the most of their marketing budget on online ads relative to TV ads and newspaper ads largely due to the fact that online shopping trends have risen dramatically in the past decade and that the percentage of the world’s population that has spent online web-surfing has grown from 0.4% in 1995 to 54.4% in December of 2017, according to Internet World Stats. Last class, we just learned that Facebook gets a whopping 98% of its revenue from ads. Facebook isn’t just a platform, it’s a marketing machine, and that can be said about a lot of the Internet giants.

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If you have a Mastercard and if you have used Google, this is news that might be especially pertinent to you. In the past four years, Google has uncovered some highly useful information in a secret deal with Mastercard that has allowed them to link online ads to in-store purchases by surveying credit card data. Google can anonymously match these existing user profiles to purchases made in physical stores. The result is powerful: Google knows that people clicked on ads and can now tell advertisers that this activity led to actual store sales.

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Now, Google can now tell advertisers that people have clicked on their ads and this activity led to actual store sales. I think more apart from the verification of the fact that there are people who have clicked on the ads for something have bought something, the fact that Google has the percentage of how effective certain ads are in terms of generating sales is highly useful data for CMOs around the world. News articles have described this as “groundbreaking”. According to Bloomberg, “the alliance gave Google an unprecedented asset for measuring retail spending, part of the search giant’s strategy to fortify its primary business against onslaughts from Amazon.com Inc. and others.” This is part of a new beta product that Google is currently trying out called Stores Sales Measurement, and according to Google, they have access to approximately 70% of U.S. credit and debit cards through partners, though they declined to name them.

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Both companies have said that the data, which Google has paid millions of dollars for, is aggregate and does not track individual purchases or have any access to any personal credit and debit card information. Despite this, the deal doesn’t necessarily sit well with everyone, considering that this is highly valuable information about the American population. It’s not that Google hasn’t been tracking this kind of information before. Google has, in the past, kept tabs for advertisers when someone who clicked an ad then visits a physical store, using location history in Google Maps—another outlet in which Google can effectively “spy” or extract information about our lives. This just goes to make me think that our lives are so heavily integrated with Google and that I remember Google is a business, with its own set of intentions and objectives, whether they align with my best interests is not really within my control.

Google further built a tool on top of that to allow advertisers to upload any customer email addresses they collected into Google’s ad-buying system, which were encrypted, although having email addresses didn’t necessarily lead to more spending. Now, with Google’s credit card data information, there’s an opportunity to track more “offline revenue.”  I’d say this is definitely one of the smartest advances in the shopping/retail world, and if you’re a marketer, this is pure gold.

I think this issue parallels directly with the issue of privacy that is a reoccurring theme within technology. A spokesperson from Future Privacy Forum, a DC-based think tank that specializes on data privacy, did say that Google has built a novice encryption system and that both Google and its partners will not have direct access to the data and that all of it will be encrypted: “They’re sharing data that has been so transformed that, if put in the public, no party could do anything with it…It doesn’t create a privacy risk.” People can also opt out of Google tracking by turning off something in the web/app settings, but I’m honestly not sure by turning off web-tracking I’ll be so reassured. It isn’t quite so much the individual feeling of “creepiness” that I fear but more the fear that Google, as a powerful engine in today’s society, can use the aggregate information for decisions that would negatively impact the public good.

 

8 thoughts on “What’s Google Up to These Days?

  1. I totally relate to your first point. Sometimes it feels like just thinking about something, not even searching for it online or talking about it, can lead to a targeted ad! It does feel really creepy and invasive, but you’re right that Google has every right to use their data to increase their revenues. Even though it doesn’t sit well with me, I still don’t think any of us could imagine not using Google’s products/services due to the privacy concerns, they’re just too valuable. It’ll be really interesting to see how this massive power is regulated in the coming years. I certainly share that fear that Google may not use this power for good.

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  2. Really nice post. Facebook has been doing some similar things for the past couple of years. This definitely goes onto my “creepy cool” line. As a b-school professor, I think it’s really cool. As a consumer, not so much.

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  3. Really interesting article. I’ve kind of figured that Google has been able to see my purchasing history given the spot-on ads I see for products I am interested in, but I never realized how they were receiving this information. It definitely makes you think about all the things that could go wrong if this data got into the wrong hands. For the marketers, the world of marketing has been completely transformed with the abundance of data for personalized advertising. I think the marketers are the clear winners here, and we, the consumers, should be mindful of how nothing is really private anymore.

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  4. Targeted ads have definitely become way more advanced and sometimes creep me out. I am curious to see how many purchases I have made due to these advertisements. It would be cool if Google provided consumers with a way to track that. However, I do worry about the massive amount of data they’re able to collect and wonder what the best way is to hold them accountable.

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  5. The connection between the digital and physical worlds is what is really taking this to the next step. I see this all the time with my Google Maps anticipating my destination when I get in the car at certain times and telling me how long it would take to get there. It makes a lot of sense for Google and for marketers to apply this knowledge, but I agree with the sentiments above that it’s definitely creepy to think about.

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  6. Recently, I’ve been hearing talk about Venmo credit cards that allow people to swipe a card or insert a chip and have money taken out of their Venmo account instead of their bank account. It sounds super cool and convenient, which it is, but it also inches into the eerie, uncomfortable side of technology-based transactions. Venmo has a policy wherein by using their card, customers are giving up some privacy. Customers must provide a handful of personal information when applying for the card and Venmo will have access to their transactions. Right off the bat, the idea sounds fascinating, but I’m not sure I would hand over my data in that way.

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  7. I think that there’s actually a pretty good chance that our phones listen to us with their microphones. If google is willing to take the credit card data to help target ads, you don’t think they’d pick up keywords from their Google Home or Pixel 2? There have been several times when I’ve only talked about something, and without ever typing it into my phone or computer, I get a targeted ad about the thing I was just discussing! I wouldn’t put it past them, something to consider…

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  8. I constantly make mental notes about how spot-on and relevant the ads that Google gives me are, but never really stopped to think about how they’re extracting my data and producing such relevant content (I knew it had something to do with cookies or something along those lines). Running very close to the creepy side on the creepy-cool line, but I personally don’t mind it, and enjoy having a tailored online experience (unpopular opinion?).

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