If you have been trying to slowly ease back into the work week after a long holiday away from the office, you may have missed the Bloomberg article implicating Mastercard and Google of partnering on a consumer data sharing deal, without the consent of cardholders. In the post-Cambridge Analytica era, during a week where Twitter, Google and Facebook are again invited to appear before Congress to discuss topics around consumer data privacy, this is not a welcomed headline.
Mastercard and Google are said to have formed a partnership to share information (that merchants could purchase, of course) illuminating instances when an individual browsed an online ad for a particular item and then ended up purchasing the product in a physical store;
For the past year, select Google advertisers have had access to a potent new tool to track whether the ads they ran online led to a sale at a physical store in the U.S. That insight came thanks in part to a stockpile of Mastercard transactions that Google paid for.
But most of the two billion Mastercard holders aren’t aware of this behind-the-scenes tracking. That’s because the companies never told the public about the arrangement.
Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Mastercard Inc. brokered a business partnership during about four years of negotiations, according to four people with knowledge of the deal, three of whom worked on it directly. The alliance gave Google an unprecedented asset for measuring retail spending, part of the search giant’s strategy to fortify its primary business against onslaughts from Amazon.com Inc. and others.
If accurate, that is a pretty damning accusation. But there are some holes in the story. First, in order for this information to be really of value to merchants, it needs to include cardholder data from more than just Mastercard. Visa has stated that they do not have a data sharing relationship like this with Google. Also, the card networks often don’t capture itemized data. They wouldn’t be able to link the browser activity for a specific item to the actual purchase of the same item.
The problem here is that the mere perception of wrongfully sharing private data can be very damaging, regardless of reality.
Overview by Sarah Grotta, Director, Debit and Alternative Products Advisory Service at Mercator Advisory Group