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Google may be tracking your offline purchases with Mastercard's help

Advertisers in the United States have been able to track the correlation between the online ads and offline purchases, thanks to a deal between Google and Mastercard that was finalised last year.

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Google may be tracking your offline purchases with Mastercard's help

If you think Google will not know what you bought at a brick-and-mortar store, think again. Google and Mastercard have reportedly entered a secret partnership which allows the former to track whether its online ads led to an offline purchase. Google advertisers in the United States have been able to track the correlation between the two, thanks to a deal that was finalised last year, according to a Bloomberg report.

Alphabet Inc and Mastercard Inc have been in talks for four years that led to this 'hushed up' partnership, the report said while quoting four persons in the know of the deal. While Google got its hands on a tool to gauge its users' shopping habits in the real world, the two billion Mastercard users remained clueless about the behind-the-scenes tracking. That's because neither Google nor Mastercard have made the deal public.

The process starts when a user logged in with a Google account clicks on a Google ad, browses an item but doesn't purchase it. If the user then visits a physical store and purchases the same item using a Mastercard debit or credit card, Google gets to know about it. The search giant then sends a report to the advertiser about the product and the effectiveness of the ads, with a section titled 'offline revenues' listing the retail sales.

Google has reportedly paid Mastercard millions of dollars for the data about what people have been purchasing. This data was then used to develop a tool which could ascertain whether a user went on to purchase a product from an offline store after clicking on a Google ad about it. This pattern allows Google to measure how its ads influence buying habits in the real world.

In its defence, the search giant said that a new, double-blind encryption technology was developed before this beta for the ads tool was launched last year. This prevents both Google and its partners from accessing personally identifiable information of their respective users. The tech giant has made no comment on any association with Mastercard, though. "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," the Bloomberg report quoted a Google spokeswoman as saying.

Mastercard also argued that its network does not disclose the specific items consumers have in their shopping carts - be it physical or digital - nor is any individual transaction or personal data in provided. The financial services company did say that it shared aggregated and anonymous data that allows merchants and service providers to ascertain the effectiveness of their ad campaigns.

To shield your data from being tracked, you need to toggle off 'Web and App Activity', which is enabled by default and controls things like whether Google can track your GPS location through Maps data or browser searches.

In the past, Google used to flag advertisers whenever a user visited a physical store after clicking on an online ad, based in Location History from Maps. This, however, could not tell for sure whether the user did make a purchase or not. Google has been looking to get over this loophole with its latest ads tool.

Only last year, Google had announced a service called Store Sales Measurement, stating that it recorded 70 per cent credit and debit cards active in the US. While the tech giant did not disclose its partners back then, there could be financial companies other than Mastercard working with Google under this programme.

Edited by Vivek Punj

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