Privacy Law

Google seeks 'Holy Grail,' will help track shoppers and link computer ad clicks to in-store sales

Seeking what one advertising executive calls the Holy Grail of Internet marketing, Google Inc. has launched a pilot program to help companies link consumers’ computer clicks on its AdWords to subsequent in-store purchases.

Six advertisers are currently participating in the Internet giant’s In-Store Attribution Transaction Reporting in AdWords program, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports.

It works like this: When a consumer clicks on an AdWords advertising link included in Internet search results, Google will send a “click ID” to participating advertisers. The advertiser will have a cookie on the individual’s computer that they can match to the click ID. At some later point, when the consumer arrives at a bricks-and-mortar store and actually purchases the advertised item, one of the data handler companies that collects detailed marketing information about consumers—based on affinity cards, other point-of-sale input and information available online, among other sources—is able to link the purchase to the cookie and the cookie to the click ID.

Shoppers’ names aren’t revealed between companies, the newspaper says. But data handlers, because of the extensive detailed information they collect, including medical histories, have files about identifiable individuals.

“Clicks are just the beginning, and everyone knows that there’s more value to tying ads to purchases,” Benny Arbel, who serves as chief executive of myThings, tells the newspaper. “If Google can demonstrate that people did not just click on an ad but that they actually bought something, that is the Holy Grail.” The advertising-technology company works with Google but has no direct role in the AdWords pilot program.

Related coverage: “Is your photo online? Are you on Facebook? If so, retailers can ID you and your shopping profile”

Calgary Herald: “EchoSec: Search engine taps open data, social networks to tell all”

New York Times Review of Books (reg. req.): “Whose Life Is It Anyway?”

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