Google already monitors online shopping, but now, it is also keeping an eye on physical sales to track what customers are buying. This move comes as part of Google’s efforts to sell more digital ads.

Google tracking ads
WDnetStudio / Pixabay

Google aims to further expand revenue from ads

Previously, the internet company followed people to stores using location data like Foursquare. Next, the tech company launched its Express shopping service, and now it is tracking billions of credit and debit card transactions to push its online ads into brick-and-mortar stores, says Engadget.

On Tuesday, the search giant revealed its store-sales measurement tool at an annual conference in San Francisco. The new tool will help it track how much money people spend in brick-and-mortar stores after clicking on digital ads. The internet giant says that in the last three years, it has tracked 5 billion store visits, and customers are 25% more likely to make an in-store purchase after clicking an online search ad.

Google, which makes most of its money from ads, wants to show potential advertisers that its advertising is more effective, whether through YouTube or search. Offline tracking of most debit and credit card transactions will assist the tech giant in automatically informing merchants about when their digital ads translate into sales at retail stores. The analysis will be done by matching the combined ad clicks of users who are logged in on Google services with their overall purchases on debit and credit cards, notes LATimes.

Google believes the data will show a cause and effect relationship between offline sales and online ads. If it is successful in its recent move, it could help merchants increase their digital marketing budgets. The company currently runs the biggest online ad network in the world, with $79 billion in revenue in 2016.

What about privacy?

Google says it has access to about 70% of U.S. debit and credit card transactions through partnerships with companies that track such data. The data adds to the digital reports it has compiled on its search engine users and users of other products, including Android, YouTube and Gmail.

Further, the tech company says it will not be able to examine how much a specific individual spent or what items they bought. However, Larry Ponemon, chairman of the Ponemon Institute privacy research firm, believes that even aggregated data can sometimes be converted back to data which can recognize individuals. The expert notes that Google has good intentions so far, but governments and companies in the future might not.

Miro Copic, a marketing professor at San Diego State University, told The Los Angeles Times that the kinds of data the search company is collecting could become an inviting target for hackers.

“The privacy implications of this are pretty massive, so Google needs to tread very carefully,” the professor said.

The new tracking system was created in consultation with intelligent people to ensure it is not invasive, said Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google’s senior vice president of ads and commerce. He called the program “secure and privacy safe.”