Google tracks credit card spending to prove digital ads work

The offline tracking system will show advertisers whether their online ads generate physical sales

Google's new service will allow advertisers to see how online ads relate to offline spending

Internet behemoth Google is planning to track credit and debit card spending at brick-and-mortar stores, in order to gauge how online advertisements influence sales. A new service, Google Attribution, will allow advertisers to see whether their online campaigns succeed in generating offline sales.

According to a blog post announcing the service, Google already has access to around 70 percent of all credit and debit card transactions in the US. By mining this data, the new feature matches up customers’ in-store purchases with their online activity.

“For the first time, Google Attribution makes it possible for every marketer to measure the impact of their marketing across devices and cross-channel – all in one place”, the announcement said.

Google is now the world’s biggest online advertising network, taking in a staggering $79bn in revenue last year. Using features such as Google Analytics, AdWords and DoubleClick Search, the search giant can effectively mine internet user data and examine the link between online adverts and what has been searched for on Google. The company can also collect location data from users’ phones, enabling it to see where exactly customers are choosing to shop.

The search giant can effectively mine internet user data and examine the link between online adverts and what has been searched for on Google

Google Attribution is not the company’s first foray into tracking customer’s offline habits. Google first started tracking its users’ location data in 2014, introducing store visit measurements to measure the link between in-store traffic and online advertising. Last year, Google also began incorporating adverts into its Google Maps service in order to attract users to nearby stores. In the three years since Google first began mining location data, its advertisers have measured over five billion in-store visits.

“Machine learning is key to measuring the consumer journeys that now span multiple devices and channels across both the digital and physical world”, Google wrote in its blog post.

The announcement has already raised privacy concerns among critics, who are sceptical of Google’s promises to protect customer anonymity during the credit card tracking process. However, Google insists it is committed to protecting user privacy, and maintains no location data will be shared with advertisers. Users worried about security can also delete their location history, and disable personification for all Google ads by adjusting their Google Account settings.

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