Google reportedly paid millions of dollars in secret data deal with Mastercard to track retail sales

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For the past year, select Google advertisers have had access to a potent new tool to track whether the ads they ran online led to a sale at a physical store in the U.S. That insight came thanks in part to a stockpile of Mastercard transactions that Google paid for.

The revelation comes amid heightened concern about how much consumer data is consumed by tech companies like Google. Earlier this year, Facebook was criticized when data on as many as 87 million people was improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica, raising questions about Facebook’s handling of user data and whether the company is doing enough to protect it.

But most of the two billion Mastercard holders aren’t aware of this behind-the-scenes tracking. That’s because the companies never told the public about the arrangement.

Bloomberg reported that the process begins when a consumer logged into a Google account clicks on an ad for an item their browsing the web for but doesn’t purchase at that time. If that consumer then uses their Mastercard to purchase the item at a physical store with 30 days, the sale is reported to the advertiser who ran the ad. The advertiser gets a report that lists the transaction in a column labeled “Offline Revenue,” Bloomberg reported.

Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Mastercard Inc. brokered a business partnership during about four years of negotiations, according to four people with knowledge of the deal, three of whom worked on it directly. The alliance gave Google an unprecedented asset for measuring retail spending, part of the search giant’s strategy to fortify its primary business against onslaughts from Amazon.com Inc. and others.

Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that Google services on Android devices and iPhones track and store your location data even if you turn location history off in your privacy settings. Google reportedly uses this location data to target ads based on users’ specific locations.

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