NEW YORK: Last year Google announced a new feature for advertisers called Store Sales Measurement, which gave the company access to around 70% of US credit and debit card data. A new investigation uncovers the deal that made it possible.

According to an investigation by Bloomberg, Google and MasterCard brokered a partnership that would bestow on the search giant an unprecedented asset for measuring retail spending. MasterCard received millions of dollars for the data, according to two people who worked directly on the deal. Neither the terms nor the existence of the deal was made known to the public nor to MasterCard customers.

Though Google declined to comment on the MasterCard deal, a statement given to the press emphasised the firm’s privacy credentials. “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,” the company said in a statement.

“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 statement added that users are free to opt out of ad tracking with the Web and App Activity dashboard.

A spokesperson for MasterCard says the company shares transaction trends with businesses and service providers to help them measure “the effectiveness of their advertising campaigns. “No individual transaction or personal data is provided,” said the spokesperson. “We do not provide insights that track, serve up ads to, or even measure ad effectiveness relating to individual consumers.”

The Store Sales Measurement service only applies to logged-in Google users who have not opted out of ad tracking, the company said. It is unclear whether the service’s stated figure of 70% of credit and debit cards refers to deals with card companies whose users amount to 70% of all US credit cards, or whether the company has deals with all credit card companies and only 70% of users are logged on at a time.

Sources familiar with the conversations said that Google also approached other payment companies, but don’t know whether any such deals were finalised.

The reports are likely to add fuel to mounting privacy concerns against the world’s biggest advertising platform. Earlier this month, an Associated Press investigation found that Google continued to record users’ location history even when it was explicitly instructed not to. 

However, privacy experts understand that Google developed an innovative encryption technique in order to launch the product, ensuring that neither Google nor payment partners have access to the data that each collects.

Sourced from Bloomberg, WARC