Google says it won't be able to examine the specific items purchased or how much a specific individual spent. But even aggregated data can sometimes be converted back to data that can identify individuals, said Larry Ponemon, chairman of the Ponemon Institute privacy research firm. Google says it has access to roughly 70 percent of U.S. credit and debit card sales through partnerships with other companies that track that data. By matching ad clicks with this data, Google says it can automatically inform merchants when their digital ads translate into sales at a brick-and-mortar store. Previously, if people clicked on an ad without buying anything online, an advertiser might conclude that the ad was a waste of money. If the program works, it could help persuade merchants to boost their digital marketing budgets. The data add to the digital dossiers that Google has compiled on users of its search engine and other services, including Gmail, YouTube and Android. Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google's senior vice president of ads and commerce, said the new tracking system was created in consultation with "incredibly smart people" to ensure it's not invasive. He described the program as "secure and privacy safe." But Ponemon said that even if Google has good intentions now, companies and governments in the future might not.
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