Source: Google

Google has been accused of monitoring its user’s offline transactions over the past year via a secret deal with Mastercard. The deal is said to power Google’s “sales store measurement tool”, which tells advertisers if an online posting is effective at driving physical purchases.

According to Bloomberg, two people who worked on the deal say it cost millions of dollars and was negotiated for four years. The publication says neither Mastercard or Google customers were informed of the deal, which apparently links Google accounts to physical store purchases.

Essentially, if a user is signed in and looks at an ad, then visits a store up to 30 days later, Google marks it as a success. It can then report it to the advertiser, allowing to make informed decisions.

Google and Mastercard Response

So far, the response from Google and Mastercard seems to indicate that the scope of the collection is exaggerated. Though Google wouldn’t comment on any deal with Mastercard, it did talk about its sales store measurement as a whole.

According to the spokesperson, its beta product uses double-blind encryption to prevent Google and partners viewing personally identifying information. It says it has no access to personal information from credit card partners and doesn’t share any information with them.

Mastercard also declined to comment on the deal specifically but concurred. In regards to merchanting partners, spokesperson Seth Eisen said:

“No individual transaction or personal data is provided. We do not provide insights that track, serve up ads to, or even measure ad effectiveness relating to, individual consumers.”

Eisen also said that sales volume and average purchase size is only shared with permission from the merchants. The data is apparently used to track transaction trends.

Interestingly, neither company denied the existence of a deal. That raises questions about whether customers have a right to be told explicitly how their purchases will be used and who the data is collected from.

Google says that users can turn off ad tracking via the ‘Web and App Activity’ toggle in the dashboard. The setting only mentions purchase tracking “on an advertiser’s site”, and disables Google Assistant and a number of other functionalities.

Users are unable to adjust which activity they’re comfortable with individually, instead of getting a blanket option. Considering the recent debacle with location history, this report doesn’t look good for Google. We’d like to see finer controls and better disclosure in the future, regardless of the accuracy of Bloomberg’s statements.