Data Privacy Worries: Google and Mastercard’s Data Tracking Deal

On today’s Commexis Cast we talk about a recent Bloomberg report on a “secret” deal between Mastercard and Google that allowed Google to buy access to credit card purchase information. Google’s goal is to use this information to better track online advertisements that lead to offline transactions. However, news of the deal is causing some anxiety over consumer data privacy rights.

While this deal took place last year, many are calling it “secret” for lack of coverage and announcement. That said, this is far from the first time Google and Mastercard have worked together.

The Data Privacy Worries

In particular, there is worry about Google silently acquiring massive amounts of consumer data. Many are wondering why there isn’t better government regulation that helps consumers stay informed. While it’s obvious to many that Google is logging their search history, it may be less clear that Mastercard is selling their data.

Bloomberg spoke to Christine Bannan, counsel with the advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) who said, “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.”

I don’t agree with Bannan’s first statement. While I’m sure many are ignorant to the tracking methods companies  and marketers use everyday, to say that no one expects the tracking of purchases is disingenuous. If I’m a Costco member, for example, Costco is tracking my purchases online and offline via my membership. It is the same for any member loyalty club.

However, Bannan does make an excellent point: companies should do more to inform consumers. Mastercard should be informing users that their data, anonymous or not, may be sold. And Mastercard should do so outside of a massive terms of service document.

Data Privacy Anonymous

One important note to keep in mind is the anonymity of the data. Google is not getting direct information about individual users. For example: I see an ad for cat food at PetSmart online via Google’s ad network. After work the next day, I drive to PetSmart. I purchase a few cans of cat food for my feline friend using my Mastercard and head home.

Google doesn’t see that I specifically purchased cat food. Instead, Google receives information about the number of people who saw the PetSmart ad. Then, Mastercard gives the encrypted, anonymized purchase transaction data. Therefore, my data privacy still has protection. For more, you can read an in-depth breakdown of this process by Greg Sterling on Search Engine Land.

The Link Between Online Ads and Offline Purchases

Ultimately, if Google succeeds in their mission to link online ads and offline purchases, they’ll have incredible evidence of their platform’s success. And that’s great for marketers. If a client doesn’t believe that their PPC campaign is working, you can show them the tried-and-true results.

The consideration phase of The Buyer's Journey is important to remember when discussing the data privacy concerns of Google and Mastercard's data deal.

During the consideration phase of The Buyer’s Journey, your potential customers are researching solutions to their pain points. During that process, they’ll also decide what is the most convenient way to acquire a solution (if it is a lone purchase). That’s where Google and Mastercard’s deal comes in. By pinpointing when the user decides to make their purchase offline, it becomes easier to determine why.

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