How much is too much? To Google, nothing, it seems, with news emerging that the tech giant can now track purchases made by people in-store, rather than just online.
If you buy something in a store – a tangible store – with your credit or debit card, your bank knows what you are doing. This is not a surprise, as your monthly statement will even detail where you made a purchase.
But did you know that, in the US, Google is also tracking it?
Follow the paper trail
Last month, the tech giant revealed that its latest analytics incorporate data from 70pc of credit and debit card transactions in the US, thanks to strategic third-party partnerships.
This is a serious upping of the user-monitoring ante by Google, which has been able to track users through its Maps function for years now.
Google has significant amounts of data on its users, who make up the vast majority of internet users. Through AdWords, Google Analytics and DoubleClick the company can combine data from various sources to estimate how effective online adverts are.
This is important to the company, given that selling advertising is how it makes its money. So, knowing what works, where, when and with whom is key.
However, one area in which Google was lacking data was how often advertising worked on people who didn’t end up shopping online, but instead visited tangible stores.
This has become a huge area of interest in recent years, as more and more people browse on mobile. They’re on the go, not sitting in front of a desktop, so the potential is there for people to see something online and purchase it in-store.
Google has been tweaking its offering for a while now, to help monitor this better. In 2014, Google introduced store visits measurement “to help marketers gain more insight about consumer journeys that start online and end in a store”, according to the company.
Since then, Google claims advertisers globally have measured over 5bn store visits using AdWords.
That’s ramping up now.
“Our recent upgrade to deep learning models enables us to train on larger data sets and measure more store visits in challenging scenarios with greater confidence.
“This includes visits that happen in multi-storey malls or dense cities like Tokyo, Japan, and São Paulo, Brazil, where many business locations are situated close together.”
Though it’s only now that actual purchases can be added to the mass of data Google uses to establish its links between ads and sales.
“If you collect email information at the point of sale for your loyalty program, you can import store transactions directly into AdWords yourself or through a third-party data partner,” the company said.
Add to this the fact that, in the US, Google is partnering with companies to enable it to see the vast majority of card payments in stores, and the links between ads and sales are growing ever stronger.
Google claims that the data is anonymised and customer privacy is maintained.
“While we developed the concept for this product years ago, it required years of effort to develop a solution that could meet our stringent user privacy requirements,” Google said in a statement.
“To accomplish this, we developed a new, custom encryption technology that ensures users’ data remains private, secure, and anonymous.”
Google’s interest in users’ activities is continually expanding, even if not all of it is to do with tracking. Sometimes, it merely wants to keep users’ attention as much as possible.
Last month, it emerged that the company will roll out a new tool to allow users to keep track of hotel reviews, following a few weeks of tests in the wild.
“Google is continually improving the information shown to people to help them make decisions about where to go,” said Google.
“When people are searching for a hotel to stay at, we want to ensure we make it easy for people to find useful and relevant web reviews about that place to help them make informed decisions.”
Third-party reviews – those from Expedia, for example – will show in a carousel for some hotel listings. According to Search Engine Land, the review overview section has a more robust interface, showing stronger colours.
“The detailed review section will show a graphical user interface based on type of travel,” according to the report.