Is it alright to track if online ads convert to retail spends?

In our data-rich world, customers need to grow comfortable with carrying their digital personas into the real world.
3 September 2018

When you swipe your Mastercard, Google maps your payment to an online ad. Source: Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Hamptons Magazine/AFP

When you think of purchasing something, be it a house, a car, some furniture, or even jewelry, its likely that you’ll visit a website and browse through some listings before you step out of your house.

On those websites you visit, some of the listings you see are organic listings, served at the top of the page because they match your search query most appropriately. The others, however, are advertisements — placed by the company via Google’s advertising platform. And everything up to this point is public knowledge.

However, according to a news report by Bloomberg, Google allows customers to measure ad-conversions in-store via a service called “Store Sales Measurement”.

In order to make this possible, it is believed that Google and Mastercard brokered a deal where the former paid ‘millions’ for credit card transaction data generated by two billion of the latter’s cardholders.

Google, therefore, knows when a user clicks on an ad, can tie it to the user’s activity within a store, and inform advertisers of the result.  However, although it allows marketers to see aggregate sales figures, they don’t see a shoppers’ personal information, how much they spend, or what exactly they buy.

For now, the information is only available to retailers, not the companies that actually produce the items sold inside stores.

Google, who is cautious about its image — reportedly uses a double-blind encryption method that protects user data.

“Before we launched this beta product last year, we built a new, double-blind encryption technology that prevents both Google and our partners from viewing our respective users’ personally identifiable information. We do not have access to any personal information from our partners’ credit and debit cards, nor do we share any personal information with our partners,” said a Google spokesperson.

However, the real question in today’s data-rich world is: Is it alright to track if online ads convert to retail spends?

Well, truth be told, it almost sounds Orwellian when you imagine a world where companies (and the government) track people all the time, using facial recognition, AI, and elaborate databases — but it’s also a reality that’s fast approaching.

With the internet of things (IoT) servings many of the ecosystems we use, and with NFC-based mobile payments becoming more and more popular, tracking whether online ads convert to retail spends will become more common in the future. And people need to accept that reality.

After all, if you expect the mall of the future to offer digital mirrors and VR capabilities, you probably will grow comfortable carrying your digital persona with you when you step to shop.