Your son comes home moaning that his tennis sneakers are too tight, and he needs new ones. You go online, look at various options with him and decide which pair you’re going to buy. The two of you hop in the car, head to the mall, pick out the sneakers at the appropriate store, and you pay for them with your credit card. You happily head home, relieved that your kid has stopped whining. And that’s the end of that, right? Wrong. Because when you looked at those sneakers online you did a Google search, and when you paid for them you paid with a Mastercard.
What you don’t realize – since Mastercard’s 2 billion customers have not been informed – is that Google and Mastercard entered into a deal last year to allow Google advertisers to access a tool that tracks whether online searches translate into sales at American stores.
Selling your data without your permission
As has been illustrated repeatedly with all the privacy issues at Facebook, most members of the public are extremely uncomfortable about having their private information shared with or sold to third parties, especially since the tech giants never bother to ask permission before doing so.
With regard to this latest breach of trust by Google and Mastercard, Bloomberg Quint (BQ) reported that there are real concerns about the amount of information that these corporations have access to and their level of responsibility for what they choose to do with that information.
“People don’t expect what they buy physically in a store to be linked to what they are buying online,” Christine Bannan, a lawyer with the advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), told BQ. “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.”
Advertisers are “champing at the bit” for this type of information
According to BQ, both Google and Mastercard have “declined to comment” about their deal. Both insist that no personal information is shared, and that privacy is protected. Mastercard spokesman Seth Eisen claims that information is shared only with the permission of the merchants involved – which is all good and well, but what about getting permission from the actual person making the purchases? (Related: Automakers track and store your location as you drive.)
Of course, there are billions of dollars at stake here, so the corporations involved are not likely to pay too much attention to the privacy concerns of their consumers.
As reported by BQ:
For Google, the Mastercard deal fits into a broad effort to net more retail spending. Advertisers spend lavishly on Google to glean valuable insight into the link between digital ads [and] a website visit or an online purchase. It’s harder to tell how ads influence offline behavior. That’s a particular frustration for companies marketing items like apparel or home goods, which people will often research online but walk into actual stores to buy.
That gap created a demand for Google to find ways for its biggest customers to gauge offline sales, and then connect them to the promotions they run on Google.
“Google needs to tie that activity back to a click,” said Joseph McConellogue, head of online retail for advertising agency Reprise Digital. “Most advertisers are champing at the bit for this kind of integration.”
There’s no doubt about it: Researching products online before purchasing them saves time and money and is incredibly convenient. However, there are definite privacy concerns when it comes to anything done online, and we would all do well to remember that the Worldwide Web is just that: a web.