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Google finally matching in-store purchases to online activity, vastly raising value of ads

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Google Logo dark (Image credit: Android Central)

Google is finally figuring out how to close the most precious link in the loop of online advertising: knowing when someone makes an in-store purchase in response to an online ad. Google has announced that it will begin using data from billions of credit and debit card transactions, matching the data to its anonymized profiles of Google users to whom it serves ads online.

By guaranteeing that a specific in-store purchase was made by a specific person to whom an ad was shown, Google could potentially be able to sell that information to advertisers to show the effectiveness of Google ads. That would put Google considerably ahead of other advertising systems, including the often loosely targeted TV advertisements that claim such a large portion of today's advertising spending.

According to Google, through a complex set of algorithms it has been able to process through these billions of transactions for behaviors that can link individual purchase amounts with the specific people who most likely made the purchase based on other data Google has related to them. Google of course collects an often-surprising amount of data that's tied to each individual person with a Google account — including phone location, app usage, online payments, Google searches, browsing history and more.

Google can now link individual purchase amounts with specific people who have Google accounts.

Correlating this own-collected data with a new trove of in-store transactions that it previously didn't have access to, Google is able to create a profile and match the two sets together. Google naturally explains that it never sells personally identifiable information to advertisers, and each user is identified instead through a random string of numbers ... though privacy advocates will argue that this correlation of metadata is just as good as (if not better than) knowing someone's actual identity.

Google is not alone in its quest to tie in-store purchases to online advertising — knowing exactly who made a purchase, even in a store, relating to the display of an online ad is incredibly valuable. Because of this, we don't have a great explanation from Google on how exactly it is acquiring such a large amount of data or how it's being processed to determine who is making each purchase.

This is the future of advertising, whether it's Google or some other company putting the data together is sort of irrelevant at this point.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

16 Comments
  • The rise of the machines.
  • Is this 'in store' purchase data collected from some Google pay system? Ive never used my cell phone to make a purchase in a store. How in H@!! is Google going to get my in store purchase data if I use cash, check, credit or debit cards?
  • This is clearly payment data from outside of Google's Android Pay system.
  • Are they acquiring my specific cc info, and if so how? I understand them harvesting my search history etc in exchange for a 'free' service, but grabbing my card/purchase history without my permission? That I don't like.
  • Google isn't going to disclose how it's getting it, but you have to assume it's through some sort of deal with retailers and/or card issuers. The thing is, at some point you surely gave your consent to giving this data to some company in the chain, and they then made a deal to use/sell it. It may have not been clear or easy to understand, but they had to get consent somehow.
  • Yeaah.. You're probably hitting the nail here. Sad but truth😞
  • Maybe location history combined with cc data and advertisement history all calculated together. They can still keep it anonymous by just matching date, time, and locations.
  • Advertising is not going away, so if they can better tailor the ads I see to things I'm interested in, I'm all for it. I don't need another mattress, Chinese Singles, or noosa (I'm talking about you, AC), but if you want to show me deals on the cars, tablets or home automation stuff I'm looking at, let's do it!
  • Cha ching.
  • The question, Mr. Martonik, is did I really give my consent? And is this ultimately such a good thing for all parties concerned? We can argue whether advertising, as it is evolving to be, is ultimately good for the consumer or for Google. At least Google is upfront in how it wants to know about its in-store consumers and how to best customize its online advertising to them.
  • What they need to do is use that data to stop advertising products I already bought.
  • I've gotten that. I was interested in a TV, bought one but still get ads for TVs 3 months later.
  • So true! Amazon is the worst with this: I search on their site, I buy through their site, I ship to my address that they have on record (not somewhere else and mark it as a gift), and they still "recommend" the same item and everything that is the same as it! Even worse is I search for a phone case for "X" Android phone and they recommend cases for every other phone to me... Lots of which are iPhone cases when they know I only use Android! WTF use is that, Amazon?!
  • This! Incredible that this single point hasn't occured to some companies; I'm not buying the friggin' product AGAIN!
  • Not even as a gift?
  • Maybe it will