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.
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.
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.
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.