Google/Mastercard.. The new Oil or Uranium?

Bloomberg published a thorough article today on Secret Google/MA Deal and how the data is used in attribution (I wrote about this in May of 2017 Payment Data and Google Attribution). Attribution is big business. Most marketers still grapple with the old adage “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”. Accurately closing the loop between advertising and incremental sales allows marketers to know what is working and what is not.  As outlined in Bloomberg,

“Beforehand, the company received $5.70 in revenue for every dollar spent on marketing in the ad campaign with Google, according to an iProspect analysis. With the new transaction feature, the return nearly doubled to $10.60”.

The GREAT news is that cards are an instrumental part of helping retailers improve the marketing! The bad news:  inconsistent controls, “leakage” of payment data, concerns over consumer privacy and the raw “power” google and FB have in gaining further “data advantage” over everyone else.  

  • Attribution and “closing the loop” is a strategic priority for Goog/FB because when you know what’s working, you can optimize spend and double marketing ROI. We have seen the same thing at Commerce Signals as we measure the sales impact of client ads outside of the walled gardens. The economic value created is a tremendous opportunity for banks here.
  • Google has “access” to 70% of US transaction data through Mastercard, 1-2 participating processors, a bank data aggregator, and retailers sending data to Google directly (last week’s blog).  However, there are substantial issues with granting Google/FB ad hoc access to payment data. While there are no doubt agreements associated with access and use, the data owner has given up control and thus placed themselves at unnecssary risk.
  • Commerce Signals provides this same closing the loop service in a way that allows the data owner to maintain full control and protects re-identifcation of private consumer financial information.
  • Trust is the core of both banking and marketing. All parties should be able to report on WHO is using their data and HOW they are using it. This requires transparency (and auditability).
  • Building great consumer experiences take collaboration. Collaboration will be the center of all future payment networks (ex Alipay). Commercial networks are transforming – a process which will unlock $2T in value.  (Small Wins and Transformation of Commercial Networks)
  • Data has been called the “new oil”, I would posit that it is the “new uranium”. While great power can be unleashed by refining it, you must control how it is disseminated and used… or it will everyone will be at risk

Transparency and the 3 Rules of Data

There are 3 basic rules to consider for any party participating in a data exchange

  1. Right to have the data
  2. Right to use the data
  3. Right to share the data

Transparency is critical to creating trust and enabling data. To be clear we have no relationship or business with either Google or Mastercard and I have no knowledge of the precise architecture, my educated guess on the structure is below a purely “hypothetical” design based upon experience.

Mastercard sees transaction data, but has no consumer information tied to it. In other words they only have the Primary Account Number (PAN) and no nothing else about you. Within 4 party networks only issuers have consumer information. V/MA schemes are designed to protect consumer anonymity through to the POS. However, there are agents that can map a consumer to a PAN, either through seeing things like online transactions (where you put your name and PAN to order goods), credit card bureaus, …etc. These entities can help holders of PANs map to an anonymized ID.  These anonymized IDs in payments are also held by advertisers. Each party has a “unique” anonymized ID and can’t coordinate with each other without the “key pair translator”


Google and FB. The issues in making payment data work with Google and FB are the data rules set by Google and FB: they do not let data leave their control (ex media exposure files).  Thus data must go INTO GOOGLE. The 3-4 yrs of delay in MA/Google operation would likely be surrounding where the Google Data and MA data would collectively reside. Google is in a place to financially take risk on this, and my guess is that payment partners (like MA) have agreed to a “white room” where their payment data resides which can be accessed in a controlled/structured manner by Google.

Consumer information leaving Mastercard:  Contractually none as they probably maintain “ownership” of the neutral white room (perhaps a separate legal entity). There are also likely controls placed upon the structure of analysis (example cohorts must be greater than 50 matched consumer records) within an operating agreement.

Issues: Google has ad hoc access to payment data within a set of rules. My rule #3 (right to “share” the data) may be broken here as permissions must be granted by either:  the consumer, merchant, or issuer (depending on data).  Standard questions anyone should ask on this architecture:

  • Who created the operating agreement?
  • Who granted the permissions?
  • Who is managing the controls?
  • What auditability is granted to the impacted parties?
  • Who bears the risk of breach?

Banks and Merchants (the advertisers) must be able to clearly communicate: who used their data for what purpose? For example, while there may be aggregated data controls, what if Google asked the same question for a group of 50 buyers of Joe’s sporting goods, and then changed the cohort by 1 person (Tom). They would know what I bought during the time period.

Federated Data = Controlled Use

At Commerce Signals we do not have any payment data inhouse. We recognized that for data to be controlled it must stay within the premises of the owner, it can only be released if you understand both WHO is requesting the data and HOW it will be used. All data exchanges are tracked and operate within defined terms and agreements. If agreements stop, so does the data flow.  We ask our financial partners a question that like this:

For this group of 1M consumers. What was the total spend of this group during the period before the advertisement and what was the total spend of this group during the media period

Consumer level information leaving financial partner: None. Just the aggregate spend of the group of the 1M. As a neutral party we hold no consumer level payment data, or ad exposure data. We provide all parties with transparent view of both USE and permissions. The only way to make TRUST operaterative in networks is to have a neutral party.

In our Joe’s sporting goods example (above), Commerce Signals monitors ID velocity, and takes actions based upon the direction of the data owner. We work as  the neutral traffic cop that enforces rules of all parties. We enable quality data to play with transparency. For example, we recognize that ID partners must be able to have clarity into how their information was used (example PAN to ID mapping). While ID agents may permission a mapping for the purpose of aggregate measurement, they may choose to defer on others. Enabling ID partners to permission use improves the market for deterministic ID providers (vs probabilistic). Tracking use also allows Commerce Signals to manage opt outs across multiple partners and ID providers consistently.

Data has been called the “new oil”. I would say it is rather the “new uranium”. While great power can be unleashed by refining it, you must control how it is disseminated and used… or everyone will be at risk. This is our business at Commerce Signals.

Industry recommendations:

  • Quality data can only play where there is transparency and control.
  • Retailers should view measurement and optimization as a core IN HOUSE responsibility. Card Networks and merchant processors are great partners to accomplish this with no work on your side. You can enable the same optimization described in the Bloomberg article across all of your marketing.
  • Google and FB must recognize that payment data is of greater sensitivity than ad exposure data. While 3rd party data partners have been curtailed, 1st party data is greatly accelerating. I believe consumers will be shocked to find out that their real time purchase information is made available to Google and FB. While there is an immediate media effectiveness impact in turning this on, there are better ways to accomplish it.   
  • Retailers should recognize the double edge sword of data sharing with Google. While it does improve marketing results, and they can write very big checks, it also leaks consumer preferences. 
  • We are at a Data Tipping Point (blog) where all parties must be accountable for HOW data plays with WHOM for WHAT use.  Create a mission control for all of your data interactions. Who is using your data today?  It is your data, and it must operate under your rules (more here)
  • Banks… must work to ensure transparency of data use, and that the actors participating abide by the rules (see my Bank Recommendations)

Payments Data and Google Attribution

Great articles yesterday

This year, the iab (interactive advertising bureau) labeled 2017 as the Year of Measurement. Understanding why, and what is changing here is key for retail, banking and advertising. Most of us know the adage “measure what you want to manage”. As an engineer, I view measurement as the key feedback loop in any system or process. In order to gain feedback (close the loop), you must know what happened. Continue reading “Payments Data and Google Attribution”

Targeting and Attribution – Facebook’s Substantial Lead

6 March 2014

A very very hot topic in digital advertising today is attribution. My definition of attribution: The process by which an advertising campaign measures its influence on consumer behavior. Digital advertising is typically measured by: Ads presented (Impressions), Click Through Rate (CTR), Cost per thousand (CPM), Interaction time (see DoubleClick Data and Top 10 Metrics). Marketers have more data for online advertising than for any other channel, the problem is that people don’t live online. For example, eCommerce sales are around $180B, compared to total Retail sales of $2.4T (excluding Auto, Financial Services and Gas). Similarly Google owns 50% of the digital ad market, with US revenue running at over  $30B/yr, which is just a small slice of the overall US marketing spend of over $500B. The CPG vertical for example is the has the largest marketing spend (P&G $3.2B), but very low digital spend (see Retailer as Publisher).

The marketer’s key “nut to crack” : how does online advertising influence offline behavior? (attributing behavior). Facebook is leading the world in 2 critical areas of advertising: Targeting and Attribution.


Facebook is highly differentiated here, think lasers vs nuclear weapons. Not only can you build a custom audience based upon email, phone, … etc. You can have Facebook expand that to a lookalike audience, or use external data to form a partner audience (consumers that drive a Mercedes, are over 40 and drink OJ). There is no platform on the planet that does a better job targeting. Tech Crunch covered most of this in an April 2013 Article.  Also a consumer privacy group has a very detailed article on issues surrounding facebook/datalogix.


This is where the stakes get much higher, and the facts are VERY closely guarded. Why the secrecy? Perhaps data use is beyond the scope of use agreed to, or at least the “value” of the use has not been realized by the owner of the data. For example the Tech Crunch article outlined how Datalogix used grocery store loyalty card information in custom audience creation (targeting) and attribution. However, Datalogix may not be authorized to use the data in this way (at least for all of the Retail clients).

Lets assume that they have no rights to use Safeway’s data for either targeting or for attribution, how do they get around it? For Targeting: my guess is that they are using a smaller Grocer’s (GroceryX) data to construct an initial data set that Facebook expands (via lookalike). For attribution, they then use loyalty card purchase information to statistically project the performance of the original data set (projecting the purchase behavior of the GroceryX’s loyalty customers on the larger data set).

If this is the case, then GroceryX’s data contributed all of the attribution performance (as well as for targeting). Subsequently the revenue that SV should receive is far above their data’s representation in Datalogix’s grocery macro database. In otherwords, SuperValu (or another unknowing participant) may not be getting paid for the value they are creating.

Regardless of the data use, Facebook is becoming a CPG’s dream channel, far exceeding the performance of anything they have ever worked with (by a factor of 5+!). This is one of the reasons I’m very high on Facebook, and I do own the stock. It may have taken them awhile to figure out targeting and mobile advertising, but they are absolutely killing it today. I believe they could easily grow their CPG advertising 10x in next 18 months.

Purchase Behavior.. Who has it?

There is SIGNIFICANT data leakage going on today. It is a Tsunami that is about to hit every retailer. Data is being used far and above its intended purpose. Another grocery example is what was UPromise, and now SavingStar.  UPromise was an original construct to earn points toward college tuition from SallieMae. Every grocery provided their data to the program so their consumers could participate. SavingStar has tremendous data.. but what can they do with it?  Bank of America’s card linked offer program started to use this data, but the issues of use, ownership and the latency (ex getting credit on day 3) issues persist.

Retailers run a very profitable business in data today. It is core to the current status quo, particularly as it relates to trade spend ($200B/yr). Most retailers are very, very conscious of issues surrounding data leakage. The leading Retail analytics companies (Catalina, dunhumby, Spire, Inmar, ..etc. ) could do wonders in attribution if their data owners would let them.

Purchase Events

Another entity that has purchase data in the US is Argus Information, a Division of Verisk. A little over 10 years ago, Argus evolved as a US bank marketing utility for measuring/targeting cards. Banks send Argus all of their card transaction detail and Argus creates reports for banks (ie Average Customer spend vs competitor in region, average customer balance, …) it was a benchmark service, plus a way for Banks to target Card mailings.  Argus’ former CEO Len Laufler is now running a new data Division at Chase for Jamie.

My friends tell me that Argus has been openly discussing how it can sell its purchase intelligence to non-banks and advertisers (this year). I can tell you one thing for certain, Banks are not cool with this. The head of Retail at a top 3 bank called up Len 2 years ago and told him in no uncertain terms, that the moment they sold their data outside of its intended use they would no longer receive it, and find themselves in front of a judge. The Banks are at risk, Argus is at risk, Consumers are at risk.. if data is used beyond the approved usage. The only way to get this data is with the approval of issuer and consumer.

AdAge had Amex/Mastercard story along these lines in April.   I was also told last month that another source for the data could be Yodlee. As Yodlee’s very first customer (Wachovia 1999) I would say that they have an advantage of customer permissioning. They also have experience in dealing with 3rd party use (Mint, offermatic, …), problem is that it takes time to get the data (customer must register), and there is a latency between transaction, bank record keeping, OFX polling, attribution logic, .

GoogleZave Reciept detail

Quite frankly Google has all of the assets to kill CPG/Retail. Their Zave purchase has put them IN the IBM/Toshiba 4690 OS (run by 16 of 20 top retailers).  Every time I shop at my local Harris Teeter and use electronic Coupons.. it is Google powering a fantastic consumer experience. Customer level SKU information attribution nirvana. They also have a unique content delivery mechanism (targeted incentives) that Facebook can’t match. Manufacturers are not keen to issue coupons to everyone.. they want to target incentives to specific buyers… However Retailers DO want coupons for everyone, unless someone will pay them more to change their behavior. It will take Retailers, Manufactures and Consumer participation to make this all work.. which means tremendous focus (and investment).