Google already tracks what you buy online; it's about to start tracking what you buy offline, too, the AP reports. The tech giant announced Tuesday it will start tracking money spent at merchants' brick-and-mortar stores by people who've clicked on those stores' digital ads. Google has access to about 70% of credit and debit card sales in the US, it explains, via partnerships with other data tracking companies; its new tool will match up those sales with the ad clicks of users logged into Google. Google can then let merchants know how effective their digital ads are at leading not only to online sales, but also to in-person sales, thus possibly convincing companies to increase the money they spend on online ads. Google runs the world's largest digital ad network.
The Consumerist explains that location services on your phone could also be helpful in tracking offline purchases, giving this example: "Why yes, John Smith did see four ads for your coffee drink online yesterday, before spending exactly what one of those drinks costs at a location of yours near his office." And, as CNN reports, Google will also start making more of an effort to get people into physical stores by offering up local store information on YouTube ads. Google says its new tracking tool is not invasive and that the company won't have access to the exact amount spent or the particular items purchased by a user, but one privacy expert says it's possible for aggregated data to be used to identify individuals—and another marketing expert says this type of data could be tempting to hackers. "The privacy implications of this are pretty massive, so Google needs to tread very carefully," he says.