For the past year, Google and Mastercard had a “secret deal” allowing Google tracking of spending habits of two billion Mastercard card-holders. Using Blur can protect you from tracking, online and off.
The deal gives Google “an unprecedented asset for measuring retail spending”, as they compete with sites like Amazon. Mastercards were used in roughly 25% of US purchases last year, according to the Nilson Report.
How Google is Tracking Mastercard Purchases
Here’s an example: You’re in the market for a new mattress. You do a Google search for mattresses, and you click the first search result (a Google adwords ad). You decide not to purchase the mattress online at that time. A few weeks later, you decide to go the store in-person, and buy the same mattress using your Mastercard. All the while, Mastercard has just informed Google of your purchase, and Google is tracking the sale and reporting the information back to the original advertiser.
Privacy Implications of Google Tracking
Last year, Google announced their “Store Sales Measurement” service, and explained that through “unnamed partners”, they had access to “approximately 70 percent” of US credit and debit cards. This could be an indication that Google has made deals with other credit card companies, not only Mastercard.
They would not speak specifically about the deal, but Google did say that they have made an effort to protect consumers’ privacy within the service. According to a Google spokeswoman, they created a “double-blind encryption technology” before launching the project. “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 Future Privacy Forum has said that this double-encryption means that Google does not have access to its partners’ data, and vice versa. This is meant to reduce privacy concerns and protect consumers from data breaches. Note that The Future Privacy Forum is a nonprofit that receives funding from Google.
Google has also said that the tracking only applies to people who are logged in to a Google account and have not opted-out of Google tracking. Users can opt-out of ad tracking by using the “Web and App Activity” online console (instructions below). Still, objections have been raised, saying that there was no obvious way to opt-out of Google tracking.
Mastercard is benefitting from your data
Google paid Mastercard millions of dollars for this data. Mastercard did not speak specifically about the deal, but did say that the company shares transaction information with merchants and service providers to help them determine “the effectiveness of their advertising campaigns.”
A Mastercard spokesman noted, “we do not provide insights that track, serve up ads to, or even measure ad effectiveness relating to, individual consumers.” Instead, marketers get aggregate sales figures and estimates of how many of their sales can be attributed to Google ads. They don’t see the shoppers’ personal information, how much they have spent, or what items they have bought.
Most of us know that our online purchases are tracked, but it’s unsettling to know that even our offline activities are now also being tracked and linked to our online browsing.
“People don’t expect what they buy physically in a store to be linked to what they are buying online,” said Christine Bannan, counsel with the advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). “There’s just far too much burden that companies place on consumers and not enough responsibility being taken by companies to inform users what they’re doing and what rights they have.”
How can I stay private from Google tracking?
There are a few ways to help block this kind of tracking and help you stay private.
Turn off Google tracking in Google Search console. Here’s how:
- Log in to Google and go to https://myactivity.google.com/myactivity.
- On the left, click on “Other Google Activity”.
- Scroll down and click on “Ad Settings”, and turn off ad personalization.
- Go back to the main page and click “Activity controls” on the left.
- Pause each of these.
Click here to read more.
If you want to be even more cautious, you can also log out of Google on your phone when you are not actively using it. It might be more inconvenient than being constantly logged-in, but ultimately can help protect you from tracking.
Use Blur for online purchases. You can be sure that your information is not being tracked online when you use Masked Cards by Blur when making online purchases. You should also use Masked Emails when creating new accounts or shopping online- this will prevent your online activity from being linked to you and your personal information.
Abine, Inc. is The Online Privacy Company. Founded in 2009 by MIT engineers and financial experts, Abine’s mission is to provide easy-to-use online privacy tools and services to everybody who wants them. Abine’s tools are built for consumers to help them control the personal information companies, third parties, and other people see about them online.
DeleteMe by Abine is a hands-free subscription service that removes personal information from public online databases, data brokers, and people search websites.
Blur by Abine is the only password manager and digital wallet that also blocks trackers, and helps users remain private online by providing ‘Masked’ information whenever companies are asking for personal information.
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