Imagine that you are the  creator of a useful tool that you think will help society. You spend  endless nights perfecting the design, favoring your creative brain over  your social obligations, developing a deep relationship with your work,  and just maybe not recognizing the  person in the mirror with bags under their eyes. You care. Your end  product provokes a positive response from your friends and family and  you decide to take it further and let more people know it. Beyond the  use of word of mouth, how do you get the word out about it? You  advertise.

Advertising is a medium that allows buyers and sellers to find each other.

One  highly beneficial advertising service is Google Ads, popular because it  gives a better result than similar alternatives. This is due to how it  capitalizes on its resources, its main resource being its volume of  users and the information they provide.

Going back to the example  of you, whoever you are, making a product and getting it out to others, the next step you might want to take is get feedback about current and  potential users, so you can find the ones that are most likely to want  to use your product. You could advertise to many people and allow those  interested to self-select themselves, or you could make the process more  efficient by only reaching those who are likely to be interested. The  only way you can do the latter is to know what their interests are.

How  do you know what someone is interested in? The most ethical way to find that out, is to simply ask. However, people's stated and actual desires can vary by a great margin, and so a more accurate solution is to have them tell you without consciously telling you.

This is what  Google, Facebook and many advertising services currently do. They allow  you to get this information by selling user information that can  categorize people based on relevant data. They collect information that  says enough about people's values or desires to know what they might  want to literally or figuratively buy. This current scenario has been  happening for a long time and is already something that many people have  an issue with. But they are not willing to give up convenience to solve  the problem. They hope to have the benefits and convenience while  having their information protected. In fact, some people don't mind at  all.

But, it gets a bit more sinister, because Google decided to  up its game by bridging user information from the offline and the online  world. They first tried this by offering a service called Google  Wallet, as a new service to be added to the Google ecosystem. Because  that didn't give them the information volume they wanted, they then  turned to credit and debit card companies. Google already offers a service called "Store Sales Measurement" that gives insight into customer conversion offline based on online  ads. Since 2017, they claim that companies can "measure store sales by  taking advantage of Google's third-party partnerships, which capture  approximately 70% of credit and debit card transactions in the United  States". They also state that companies can "match transactions back to Google ads in a secure and privacy-safe way, and only report on  aggregated and anonymized store sales to protect your customer data"

Something new was reported by Bloomberg at the end of August 2018, with additional information coming from corporation contacts with Slate. Google reportedly finalized a 4 year deal with MasterCard to update its offline conversion tracking. In Google's words:
"Before  we launched this beta product last year, we built a new, double-blind encryption technology that prevents both Google and our partners from  viewing our respective users' personally identifiable information. 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. Google users can opt-out with their Web and App Activity  controls, at any time."

In Mastercard's words:
"Regarding the [Bloomberg] article you cited, I'd quickly note that the premise of what was reported is false. The way our network operates, we do not  know the individual items that a consumer purchases in any shopping card  — physical or digital. No individual transactions or personal data is  provided. That delivers on the expectation of privacy from both  consumers and merchants around he world. In processing a transaction, we  see the retailers name and the total amount of the consumer's purchase,  but not specific items."

And according to the head of the Future  of Privacy forum, Jules Polonetsky, who was briefed by Google, they are  using a novel encryption method that eliminates privacy risk. He stated that: "They're sharing data that has been so transformed that, if put in the public, no party could do anything with it."

It  was important for me to carefully begin this story from the perspective  of the advertiser. That could be you one day. We could never have all  the material items in our lives if someone didn't take the time to make  them, and someone didn't take the time to share them, whatever the  competitive or coercive nature of the business world. However, we do not have to sacrifice all privacy in order to leverage technology that benefits both users and creators. And we can build that quality into the technology we use rather than  rely on other individuals' personal ethics. Google claims to be  protecting user identity with a "new" encryption method that no one but  Google knows about, when a primary rule of encryption standards is that  they must be public for them to be proven secure. Google's claims must  also be taken within the context of prior claims such as one that  explicitly claimed to not track users that was later rescinded after outside investigation.

What is absolutely amazing is that these companies make deals of this nature in privacy, without full transparency. Both companies are employing a right for their corporations that they deny their users: privacy.  But users may be unaware of the coming alternatives that offer  practical, verifiable, and useful services, without the total loss of  personal data. We now have the power to leverage technologies that help  us live our day to day lives, without relying on centralized  institutions to provide them to us. We can do that through the use of  blockchain technology. And this article is a reminder of that.

Since  Google launched its offline tracking using credit and debit card data  in 2017, it has been more than a year. They are only upping the ante.  One has to ask, are we like the proverbial frog in boiling water?

Hi, my name is Desi-Rae. This article is part of an ongoing series on  privacy that I'm doing as part of my work with Particl, a crypto-based  privacy platform that is creating its first dAPP, a marketplace. You can  find out more about Particl, here. All opinions are my own.
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