By Andile Sicetsha for The South African

The South African Police Service’s (SAPS) cybercrime unit has been forced to drop investigations into hundreds of cases because software licenses have not been paid.

A report in the Sunday Times revealed that investigations into organised crimes, hacking and EFT scams have been halted due to expired software licenses for equipment used to decode and interpret cellphone data.

Other forensic capabilities have also been hindered by this. Data that would’ve been vital in the trial of alleged Islamic State members, Aslam Del Vecchio and Fatima Patel, is not available because of this.

Earlier this year, a service provider appointed by the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) threatened to halt essential services due to lack of payment, and the parliamentary portfolio committee on police said several police and SITA agreements were major security risks.

Speaking to the Sunday Times, a source with knowledge of the cybercrime unit’s operations said the police were migrating from technology that could be used in the field to a solution which tied officers to their desks.

In the past, investigators used a system called Cellebrite Touch. This was a device that could be used to interpret cellphone data in the field. It was quick and efficient.

This time, however, it seems that the unit has been moved to a desktop system, meaning that there would be a larger gap in turnaround times, and in this form of crime, time is everything.

Craig Pederson, the head of digital forensics at Computer Guyz, expressed the importance of the work conducted by the cybercrime unit.

“We live in an age where technology is used broadly and plays a definite role in many of the more serious crimes. The unit is a vital link in the complex task of collecting evidence”, Pederson stated.

Brenda Muridili, the SAPS’ spokesperson, could only state that the police would not be commenting on the issue.

“We are not able to disclose any information with regard to covertly required IT solutions”, she said.

By Tom Schoenberg, Greg Farrell and Matt Robinson for Fin24 

All it took to draw the US Justice Department into investigating Tesla was a single tweet by chairperson Elon Musk. But now that prosecutors have a toehold, they can dig in to look for other signs of misconduct at the electric-car maker.

The investigation is in its very early stages and where it leads is anyone’s guess. Many securities fraud probes over the years have started with a bang like the one that knocked as much as 6.6% off Tesla’s shares with Bloomberg’s report of the probe on Tuesday.

Some of those are flash news reports that trickle off without charges. At the other extreme are companies like Theranos, which pumped up its valuation with what the government said were false promises, leading to charges against founder Elizabeth Holmes and another senior executive.

“Criminal investigations are never good if you’re a public company because they open up a Pandora’s box and prosecutors will follow threads wherever they lead,” said Paul Pelletier, a former Justice Department prosecutor.

Tesla co-operating

Tesla said it’s co-operating with the Justice Department, noting that it received queries but no subpoena. The initial scrutiny surrounds Musk’s tweet on August 7 that he had money lined up to take the company private. Shares jumped. Later, he and his board said there was no formal proposal for the funding and they abandoned the plan.

The Securities and Exchange Commission quickly opened a civil investigation into the tweet and issued a subpoena for information, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg.That was followed by the Justice Department probe. Neither the SEC nor federal prosecutors have accused Musk of any wrongdoing.

To prove criminal securities fraud, prosecutors would have to show not only that Musk’s statements were false, but that they were made willfully. That would require establishing that Musk purposely planned to inappropriately drive the shares higher or prevent them from going lower.

One area investigators would look for such evidence is in emails or other internal documents, according to former federal prosecutors.

Musk has often vented his frustrations with short sellers on social media. In May, Musk tweeted that he was expecting the “short burn of the century” and suggested that investors who were betting against the company start “tiptoeing quietly to the exit …”

The “funding secured” tweet did in fact trip up bearish sellers when the company’s shares rallied more than 10%. Government investigators will be trying to determine whether there was any connection to that statement and his desire to hurt short sellers.

Once federal prosecutors begin looking into Musk’s comments, they may also examine other things, including why the company’s new chief accountant picked up and left after just a month on the job – though he said at the time he had “no disagreements with Tesla’s leadership or its financial reporting.”

Under securities fraud laws, prosecutors could go back five years and more if they find evidence of a conspiracy.

Very often what starts out as an investigation of one subject takes a completely different turn, said Michael Koenig, who prosecuted former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio for insider trading.

‘Wait a minute’

“When we were investigating Qwest, we initially thought there were accounting fraud and revenue recognition type issues,” said Koenig, now a partner at Hinckley, Allen & Snyder. “As we started digging into it, however, we realised, ‘Wait a minute. Joe Nacchio is selling large amounts of his stock at the same time he’s telling the general public that the company is doing great, when he knew it was not.’”

Nacchio served four years and five months in prison after his 2007 conviction in the case.

A more recent example, according to Koenig, is the Hillary Clinton email investigation, which was reopened by the FBI after agents came across possible undiscovered evidence while investigating former New York congressman Anthony Weiner for sexting with a minor.

The lack of a subpoena from the Justice Department doesn’t mean its investigation is limited, according to Pelletier. Prosecutors can piggyback on the SEC’s subpoena to get a hold of whatever information Tesla discloses, obviating the need to issue a grand jury subpoena of its own, he said.

“That’s the normal course of action when the SEC has already issued a subpoena,” Pelletier said.

The SEC already was investigating whether Musk’s vehicle production forecasts misled investors before the regulator started scrutinising whether he had secured funding for a Tesla buyout, Bloomberg News reported on August 9.

Some of Musk’s predictions have been way off. Musk said during a May 2016 earnings call that, during the second half of 2017, he expected Tesla would produce 100 000 to 200 000 Model 3 sedans – the lower-priced car that’s pivotal to the company generating profit. Tesla ended up building fewer than 3 000 Model 3s in last year’s second half.

The Justice Department’s interest in Tesla isn’t good for investors, who saw the company’s share price drop just after the investigation was revealed. But the probe doesn’t mean that Palo Alto, California-based Tesla will go the way of Theranos.

Unlike Theranos, Tesla manufactures popular automobiles. While the SEC and the Justice Department might find that the company and some of its executives exaggerated Tesla’s financial performance, government officials would probably be hesitant to inflict a critical blow on a company that employs more than 35 000 people globally.

The nature and depth of any exaggerations by Tesla will ultimately determine how the company is treated.

If Musk’s conduct at Tesla is deemed to be a case where the CEO’s unregulated passion led him to hyperbolic claims, the resulting penalties are likely to be serious, but measured. But if evidence emerges that a win-at-all-costs mentality from the top led some executives to cook the books, the penalties could be severe.

The future of work in a digital world

By Cathy Smith, MD at SAP Africa

The digital age, and the new technologies it’s brought with it – blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, augmented reality and virtual reality – is seen by many as a threat to our way of life as we know it. What if my job gets automated? How will I stay relevant? How do we adapt to the need for new skills to manage customer expectations and the flood of data that’s washing over us?

The bad news is that the nature of work has already changed irrevocably. Everything that can be automated, will be. We already live in an age of “robot restaurants”, where you order on a touch screen, and machines cook and serve your food. Did you notice the difference? AmazonGo is providing shopping without checkout lines. In the US alone, there are an estimated 3.4 million drivers that could be replaced by self-driving vehicles in 10 years, including truck drivers, taxi drivers and bus drivers.

We’re not immune from this phenomenon in Africa. In fact, the World Economic Forum (WEF) predicts that 41% of all work activities in South Africa are susceptible to automation, compared to 44% in Ethiopia, 46% in Nigeria and 52% in Kenya. This doesn’t mean millions of jobs on the continent will be automated overnight, but it’s a clear indicator of the future direction we’re taking.

The good news is that we don’t need to panic. What’s important for us in South Africa, and the continent, is to realise that there is plenty of work that only humans can do. This is particularly relevant to the African context, as the working-age population rises to 600 million in 2030 from 370 million in 2010. We have a groundswell of young people who need jobs – and the digital age has the ability to provide them, if we start working now.

Make no mistake, there’s no doubt that this so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution” is going to disrupt many occupations. This is perfectly natural: every Industrial Revolution has made some jobs redundant. At the same time, these Revolutions have created vast new opportunities that have taken us forward exponentially.

Between 2012 and 2017, for example, it’s estimated that the demand for data analysts globally grew by 372%, and the demand for data visualisation skills by more than 2000%. As businesses, this means we have to not only create new jobs in areas like data science and analytics, but reskill our existing workforces to deal with the digital revolution and its new demands.

So, while bus drivers and data clerks are looking over their shoulders nervously right now, we’re seeing a vast range of new jobs being created in fields such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), data analysis, computer science and engineering.

This is a challenge for Sub-Saharan Africa, where our levels of STEM education are still not where they should be. That doesn’t mean there are no opportunities to be had. In the region, for example, we have a real opportunity to create a new generation of home-grown African digital creators, designers and makers, not just “digital deliverers”. People who understand African nuances and stories, and who not only speak local languages, but are fluent in digital.

This ability to bridge the digital and physical worlds, as it were, will be the new gold for Africa. We need more business operations data analysts, who combine deep knowledge of their industry with the latest analytical tools to adapt business strategies. There will also be more demand for user interface experts, who can facilitate seamless human-machine interaction.

Of course, in the longer term, we in Africa are going to have to make some fundamental decisions about how we educate people if we’re going to be a part of this brave new world. Governments, big business and civil society will all have roles to play in creating more future-ready education systems, including expanded access to early-childhood education, more skilled teachers, investments in digital fluency and ICT literacy skills, and providing robust technical and vocational education and training (TVET). This will take significant intent not only from a policy point of view, but also the financial means to fund this.

None of this will happen overnight. So what can we, as individuals and businesspeople, do in the meantime? A good start would be to realise that the old models of learning and work are broken. Jenny Dearborn, SAP’s Global Head of Learning, talks about how the old approach to learning and work was generally a three-stage life that consisted largely of learn-work-retire.

Today, we live in what Ms Dearborn calls the multi-stage life, which includes numerous phases of learn-work-change-learn-work. And where before, the learning was often by rote, because information was finite, learning now is all about critical thinking, complex problem-solving, creativity and innovation and even the ability to un-learn what you have learned before.

Helping instill this culture of lifelong learning, including the provision of adult training and upskilling infrastructure, is something that all companies can do, starting now. The research is clear: even if jobs are stable or growing, they are going through major changes to their skills profile. WEF’s Future of Jobs analysis found that, in South Africa alone, 39% of core skills required across all occupations will be different by 2020 compared to what was needed to perform those roles in 2015.

This is a huge wake-up call to companies to invest meaningfully in on-the-job training to keep their people – and themselves – relevant in this new digital age. There’s no doubt that more learning will need to take place in the workplace, and greater private sector involvement is needed. As employers, we have to start working closely with should therefore offer schools, universities and even non-formal education to provide learning opportunities to our workers.

We can also drive a far stronger focus on the so-called “soft skills”, which is often used as a slightly dismissive term in the workplace. The core skills needed in today’s workplace are active listening, speaking, and critical thinking. A quick look at the WEF’s “21st Century Skills Required For The Future Of Work” chart bears this out: as much as we need literacy, numeracy and IT skills to make sense of the modern world of work, we also need innately human skills like communication and collaboration. The good news is that not only can these be taught – but they can be taught within the work environment.

It sounds almost counter-intuitive, but to be successful in the Digital Age, businesses are going to have to go back to what has always made them strong: their people. Everyone can buy AI, build data warehouses, and automate every process in sight. The companies that will stand out will be those that that focus on the things that can’t be duplicated by AI or machine learning – uniquely human skills.

I have no doubt that the future will not be humans OR robots: it will be humans AND robots, working side by side. For us, as business people and children of the African continent, we’re on the brink of a major opportunity. We just have to grasp it.

Facebook accused of job ad gender discrimination

Source: BBC 

Van driving, roofing, police work – all jobs for men. At least, that’s what a cluster of job ads placed on Facebook seemed to suggest.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Tuesday submitted a complaint to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging that Facebook’s advertising system allows employers to target job ads based on gender – a practice the ACLU says is illegal.

Specifically, the complaint refers to three women in the states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois who were not shown advertisements for what have traditionally been considered male-dominated professions.

The complaint highlights 10 different employers who posted job adverts on Facebook – for roles such as mechanic, roofer and security engineer – but used the social network’s targeting system to control who saw the ad. In one example, that targeting meant one job was promoted to “men” who were “ages 25 to 35”, and lived “or were recently near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania”.

A separate investigation by ProPublica discovered what it said were more examples showing a similar pattern.

Earlier this year the investigative journalism site released a tool which readers could use to collect data on the Facebook ads they had seen, and send that information directly to ProPublica for analysis.

Using that method, the site said it discovered men were targeted specifically in dozens of cities around the US for driving jobs with Uber. This conclusion was based on 91 ads placed by Uber’s recruitment arm, only one of which was targeted specifically at women, with three not targeting any particular gender. The rest were designed to be seen by men only.

In a statement, Uber said: “We use a variety of channels to reach prospective drivers – both offline and online – with the goal of enabling more people, not fewer, to earn on their own schedule.”

Missing information
However, this data should be treated with caution. It is not clear that any broad conclusions can be made about perceived discrimination on Facebook.

While one advertisement in isolation may be targeting men specifically, there may have been an equivalent advertisement targeting women running in the same time frame – ads that may not have been picked up by ProPublica’s tool. Furthermore, if a user clicks on an ad to see why it has been targeted – as in the ACLU complaint – they will be told why they specifically saw the ad, but not details on the entire audience for the ad.

The BBC understands Facebook is in the process of putting together data to dispute the findings and respond to the ACLU’s complaint.

While targeting users based on gender may seem relatively harmless when it comes to, for instance, clothing brands, doing so for job advertisements may be against US law. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 specifically prohibits discriminating against a person because of “race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin”. The law applies to every stage of employment, including recruitment.

Facebook said it was looking into the complaint
“When employers in male-dominated fields advertise their jobs only to men, it prevents women from breaking into those fields,” said Galen Sherwin, from the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, arguing that “non-binary” people, those who choose not to identify with a specific gender, are also excluded.

“What’s more, clicking on the Facebook ads brought viewers to a page listing numerous other job opportunities at these companies for which job seekers might be qualified.

“Because no women saw these ads, they were shut out of learning not only about the jobs highlighted in the ads, but also about any of these other opportunities.”

Facebook said it was reviewing the ACLU’s complaint and looked forward to “defending our practices”.

“There is no place for discrimination on Facebook,” said spokesman Joe Osborne.

“It’s strictly prohibited in our policies, and over the past year, we’ve strengthened our systems to further protect against misuse.”

The company has recently removed over 5,000 targeting options for advertisers. The move was prompted by a lawsuit accusing the firm of unlawfully targeting users based on race or sexual orientation.

Source: Forbes

As virtual currencies plumbed new depths on Wednesday, the MVIS CryptoCompare Digital Assets 10 Index extended its collapse from a January high to 80%. The tumble has now surpassed the Nasdaq Composite Index’s 78% peak-to-trough decline after the dot-com bubble burst in 2000.

Like their predecessors during the Internet stock boom almost two decades ago, cryptocurrency investors who bet big on a seemingly revolutionary technology are suffering a painful reality check.

The virtual-currency mania of 2017 — fueled by hopes that Bitcoin would become “digital gold” and that blockchain-powered tokens would reshape industries from finance to food — has quickly given way to concerns about excessive hype, security flaws, market manipulation, tighter regulation and slower-than-anticipated adoption by Wall Street.

Crypto bulls dismiss negative comparisons to the dot-com era by pointing to the Nasdaq’s recovery to fresh highs 15 years later, and to the Internet’s massive impact on society. They also note that Bitcoin has rebounded from past crashes of similar magnitude.

But even if the optimists prove right and cryptocurrencies eventually transform the world, this year’s selloff has underscored that progress is unlikely to be smooth.

Week after week, there is always a petrol price hike threat to consumers in South Africa. Over a period of 10 years, the petrol price has fluctuated, increasing by a whopping 66% from R9,66 to R16,08. In the last 8 months of 2018, the price has increased from R14,42 to R16,08 inland.

The price hikes in 2018 alone placed a strain on the consumers and prompted the public outcry that led to the subsequent intervention by the government. The Department of Energy intervened after the Automobile Association (AA) of South Africa anticipated a drastic 23c to 25c per litre fuel price increase for the 5th of September 2018. The intervention led to the fuel price only increasing by 4.5c per litre.

According to Central Energy Fund calculations, local consumers could be hit by another bombshell as early indicators are that the fuel price could rise by R1.14 a litre in October. Making matters worse is the shock of the recession and the threat of downgrades by rating agencies.

OLX believes this directly affect more than three thirds of their users. “While OLX prides itself for making it super easy to buy and sell almost anything, our main source of traffic is price-conscious car buyers,” says Diana Mjojo, Communications Manager at OLX South Africa. “With the fuel prices going up again, this is a trend we don’t see coming to an end any time soon and we’re concerned about how it affects our users.”

9 out of the top 10 search terms for 2018 on the OLX platform are for the Cars & Bakkies category. According to the company, the OLX car buyer is financially savvy. They are willing to accept higher mileage vehicles if it means the price of the vehicle is lower.

Mjojo says OLX users are willing to save as much money as possible during these economically hard times. “Users will often pick the practical option over luxury, which may include older models, if it means the vehicles are cheaper. Not only are they conscious about the price of the vehicle but about the petrol consumption as well,” says Mjojo.

OLX advises consumers who aren’t already buying their cars on the platform to consider doing so as that is a smart way to save and set yourself economically free. “Whether you are looking for your first car, need a car to match your muscles or upgrading, OLX is a central place for you. We work with car dealerships that list their approved cars on the platform,” adds Mjojo.

Job cuts loom at DStv

By Chris Forrester for Advanced Television

According to a report in South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper, pay-TV operator DStv is laying off up to 200 staffers in a move to save cash amidst increased competition.

A DStv spokesperson said the move was in order to create a leaner and more agile business. Existing staff are being asked to reapply for their jobs, says the newspaper.

DStv’s parent, MultiChoice has lost some 41,000 Premium top-tier subscribers in the year to March 31st.

MultiChoice has made no secret of its annoyance that rivals such as Netflix and Amazon Prime are eating away at its core subscribers and yet operate without having to fulfil the licensing obligations faced by MultiChoice.

MultiChoice CEO Calvo Mawela has called for a change in regulations to cover the new OTT entrants.

By C.R. for The Economist 

It is not a message any frequent flyer looks forward to receiving. On 7 September, British Airways (BA) said it had emailed over 380 000 customers who had booked flights with the carrier between 21 August and 5 September admitting that their credit-card details had been stolen by hackers.

BA’s embattled chief executive, Alex Cruz, attributed the breach to a “malicious, fairly sophisticated attack” on its website. The airline thinks the hackers obtained names, street and e-mail addresses, and credit-card numbers, expiry dates and security codes—more than enough information to steal money from bank and credit-card accounts.

Mr Cruz has promised compensation for any customers financially affected by the hack.

The airline has not released the full details of what happened, and is still investigating the breach. But it has admitted that it was only data used in transactions in that 15-day period, not saved credit-card data on customer accounts, that was stolen.

Cyber-security experts say that hack sounds like it breached the system that managed customer payments, unlike previous attacks on other big companies where saved data was stolen.

Whatever the cause of the attack, aviation analysts think BA is likely to be hit hard by fines from regulators. Under the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation, which came into force in May, BA could face a fine of up to 4% of its revenues if it is determined that it did not do enough to protect customer information.

That would be around £500m ($650m). If regulators decide that the penalty should be levied on the entire revenues of IAG, BA’s parent, that number could swell to as much as €1bn ($1.16bn). After adding the cost of compensating customers affected by the breach, it is no wonder that the group’s shares dropped in value by 2% on the morning the news became public.

But analysts are wary about saying that the hack will affect BA or IAG’s longer term performance.

BA has been hit by a serious of complaints about falling standards of service on its flight and by a computer crash that stranded 75,000 of its passengers last May. Mr Cruz has been crucified in the media for both public-relations meltdowns. Yet neither issue has really affected demand for BA flights.

So why do BA passengers keep coming back to the airline, in spite of it losing their credit-card data, checked-in baggage and taking away free nosh onboard? The answer is that they have little choice.

New airlines simply cannot take market share away from BA at Heathrow. As long as it uses each take-off and landing slot it is allocated 80% of the time, it can keep it for the next season. As a result, the share of slots at Heathrow owned by BA’s parent has risen from 36% in 1999 to 54%. It has also been gobbling up slots at Gatwick from defunct airlines such as Monarch, to make sure Norwegian, a disruptive long-haul low-cost competitor, cannot get their hands on them.

However much the airline’s computer systems go wrong or it cuts back its level of service onboard, new competitors cannot push it off the runway. Another IT disaster will not change that.

Amazon reaches $1trn value

By Bryan Rich for Forbes 

Today, Amazon became the second company (following Apple) to cross the one trillion-dollar valuation threshold.

This stock is up 72% year-to-date. It has doubled in the past year and has nearly tripled since Trump’s election. That’s what happens when you have a pour gasoline (economic growth) on a fire (a monopoly). No one should love Trump more than Jeff Bezos.

But at 161 times earnings, the market seems to be betting on the Amazon monopoly being left to corner all of the world’s industries. That’s a bad bet.

Much like China undercut the competition on price and cornered the world’s export market, Amazon has undercut the retail industry on price, and cornered the world’s retail business. That tipping point (on retail) has well passed. And as sales growth accelerates for Amazon, so does the speed at which competition is being destroyed. But Amazon is now moving aggressively into almost every industry. This company has to be/will be broken up.

The question is, how will the market value an e-commerce business that would no longer be subsidised by the high margin Amazon cloud business (AWS)? A separation of the businesses would put Amazon’s e-commerce margins under the Wall Street microscope (as every other retailer is subjected to) and materially impact a key sales growth driver for Amazon, which is investment in innovation (R&D).

By Mark Bergen and Jennifer Surane for Bloomberg / Fin24 

For the past year, select Google advertisers have had access to a potent new tool to track whether the ads they ran online led to a sale at a physical store in the US. That insight came thanks in part to a stockpile of Mastercard transactions that Google paid for.

But most of the two billion Mastercard holders aren’t aware of this behind-the-scenes tracking. That’s because the companies never told the public about the arrangement.

Google and Mastercard brokered a business partnership during about four years of negotiations, according to four people with knowledge of the deal, three of whom worked on it directly.

The alliance gave Google an unprecedented asset for measuring retail spending, part of the search giant’s strategy to fortify its primary business against onslaughts from Amazon.com and others.

But the deal, which has not been previously reported, could raise broader privacy concerns about how much consumer data technology companies like Google quietly absorb.

“People don’t expect what they buy physically in a store to be linked to what they are buying online,” said Christine Bannan, counsel with the advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

“There’s just far too much burden that companies place on consumers and not enough responsibility being taken by companies to inform users what they’re doing and what rights they have.”

Google paid Mastercard millions of dollars for the data, according to two people who worked on the deal, and the companies discussed sharing a portion of the ad revenue, according to one of the people. The people asked not to be identified discussing private matters.

A spokesperson for Google said there was no revenue sharing agreement with its partners.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment on the partnership with Mastercard but addressed the ads tool. “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,” the company said in a statement.

“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.” The company said people can opt out of ad tracking using Google’s “Web and App Activity” online console.

Inside Google, multiple people raised objections that the service did not have a more obvious way for cardholders to opt out of the tracking, one of the people said.

Seth Eisen, a Mastercard spokesperson, also declined to comment specifically on Google. But he said Mastercard shares transaction trends with merchants and their service providers to help them measure “the effectiveness of their advertising campaigns.” The information, which includes sales volumes and average size of the purchase, is shared only with permission of the merchants, Eisen added. “No individual transaction or personal data is provided,” he said in a statement.

“We do not provide insights that track, serve up ads to, or even measure ad effectiveness relating to, individual consumers.”

Last year, when Google announced the service, called “Store Sales Measurement,” the company just said it had access to “approximately 70%” of US credit and debit cards through partners, without naming them.

More possible deals

That 70% could mean that the company has deals with other credit card companies, totalling 70% of the people who use credit and debit cards. Or it could mean that the company has deals with companies that include all card users, and 70% of those are logged into Google accounts like Gmail when they click on a Google search ad.

Google has approached other payment companies about the program, according to two people familiar with the conversations, but it is not clear if they finalised similar deals. The people asked to not be identified because they were not authorised to speak about the matter.

Google confirmed that the service only applies to people who are logged in to one of its accounts and have not opted out of ad tracking. Purchases made on Mastercard-branded cards accounted for around a quarter of US volumes last year, according to the Nilson Report, a financial research firm.

Through this test programme, Google can anonymously match these existing user profiles to purchases made in physical stores. The result is powerful: Google knows that people clicked on ads and can now tell advertisers that this activity led to actual store sales.

Google is testing the data service with a “small group” of advertisers in the US, according to a spokesperson. With it, marketers see aggregate sales figures and estimates of how many they can attribute to Google ads – but they don’t see a shoppers’ personal information, how much they spend or what exactly they buy.

The tests are only available for retailers, not the companies that make the items sold inside stores, the spokesperson said. The service only applies to its search and shopping ads, she said.

For Google, the Mastercard deal fits into a broad effort to net more retail spending. Advertisers spend lavishly on Google to glean valuable insight into the link between digital ads a website visit or an online purchase.

It’s harder to tell how ads influence offline behaviour. That’s a particular frustration for companies marketing items like apparel or home goods, which people will often research online but walk into actual stores to buy.

That gap created a demand for Google to find ways for its biggest customers to gauge offline sales, and then connect them to the promotions they run on Google.

“Google needs to tie that activity back to a click,” said Joseph McConellogue, head of online retail for the ad agency Reprise Digital. “Most advertisers are champing at the bit for this kind of integration.”

Initially, Google devised its own solution, a mobile payments service first called Google Wallet. Part of the original goal was to tie clicks on ads to purchases in physical stores, according to someone who worked on the product.

But adoption never took off, so Google began looking for allies. A spokesperson said its payments service was never used for ads measurement.

So Google added more …

Since 2014, Google has flagged for advertisers when someone who clicked an ad visits a physical store, using the Location History feature in Google Maps. Still, the advertiser didn’t know if the shopper made a purchase. So, Google added more. A tool, introduced the following year, let advertisers upload email addresses of customers they’ve collected into Google’s ad-buying system, which then encrypted them.

Additionally, Google layered on inputs from third-party data brokers, such as Experian and Acxiom, which draw in demographic and financial information for marketers.

But those tactics didn’t always translate to more ad spending. Retail outlets weren’t able to connect the emails easily to their ads. And the information they received from data brokers about sales was imprecise or too late.

Marketing executives didn’t adopt these location tools en masse, said Christina Malcolm, director at the digital ad agency iProspect. “It didn’t give them what they needed to go back to their bosses and tell them, ‘We’re hitting our numbers,’” she said.

Then Google brought in card data. In May 2017, the company introduced “Store Sales Measurement.” It had two components. The first lets companies with personal information on consumers, like encrypted email addresses, upload those into Google’s system and synchronise ad buys with offline sales. The second injects card data.

It works like this: a person searches for “red lipstick” on Google, clicks on an ad, surfs the web but doesn’t buy anything. Later, she walks into a store and buys red lipstick with her Mastercard.

The advertiser who ran the ad is fed a report from Google, listing the sale along with other transactions in a column that reads “Offline Revenue” – only if the web surfer is logged into a Google account online and made the purchase within 30 days of clicking the ad. The advertisers are given a bulk report with the percentage of shoppers who clicked or viewed an ad then made a relevant purchase.

Most powerful tool

It’s not an exact match, but it’s the most powerful tool Google, the world’s largest ad seller, has offered for shopping in the real world. Marketers once had a patchwork of consumer data in their hands to triangulate who saw their ads and who was prompted to spend. Now they had far more clarity.

Google’s ad chief, Sridhar Ramaswamy, introduced the product in a blog post, writing that advertisers using it would have “no time-consuming setup or costly integrations.” Missing from the blog post was the arrangement with Mastercard.

Early signs indicate that the deal has been a boon for Google. The new feature also plugs transaction data into advertiser systems as soon as they occur, fixing the lag that existed previously and letting Google slot in better-performing ads.

Malcolm said her agency has tested the card measurement tool with a major advertiser, which she declined to name. 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.

“That’s really powerful,” Malcolm said. “And it was a really good way to invest more in Google, frankly.”

But some privacy critics derided the tool as opaque. EPIC submitted a complaint about the sales measuring tack to the US Federal Trade Commission last year. A report in August that Facebook Inc. was talking with banks about accessing information for consumer service products sparked similar criticism. For years, Facebook and Google have worked to link their massive troves of user behaviour with consumer financial data.

And financial companies have plotted ways to tap into the bounty of digital advertising. The Google tie-up isn’t Mastercard’s only stab at minting the data it collects from customers. The company has built out its data and analytics capabilities in recent years through its consulting arm, Mastercard Advisors, and gives advertisers and merchants the ability to forecast consumer behaviour based on cardholder data.

Ad buyers that work with Google insist that the company is careful to maintain the walls between transaction information and web behaviour, keeping any info flowing to retailers and marketers anonymous. “Google is really strict about that,” said Malcolm.

Before launching the product, Google developed a novel encryption method, according to Jules Polonetsky, head of the Future Privacy Forum, who was briefed by Google on the product. He explained that the system ensures that neither Google nor its payments partners have access to the data that each collect.

“They’re sharing data that has been so transformed that, if put in the public, no party could do anything with it,” Polonetsky said. “It doesn’t create a privacy risk.”

Future Privacy Forum, a non-profit, receives funding from 160 companies including Google.

Google’s ad business, which hit $95.4bn in 2017 sales, has maintained an astounding growth rate of about 20% a year. But investors have worried how long that can last. Many major advertisers are starting to funnel more spending to rival Amazon, the company that hosts far more, and more granular, data on online shopping.

In response, Google has continued to push deeper into offline measurements. The company, like Facebook and Twitter, has explored the use of “beacons,” Bluetooth devices that track when shoppers enter stores.

Some ad agencies have actively talked to Google about even more ways to better size up offline behaviours. They have discussed adding features into the ads system such as what time of day people buy items and how much they spend, said John Malysiak, who runs search marketing for the Omnicom agency OMD USA.

“We’re trying to go deeper with Google,” he said. “We’d like to understand more.” Google declined to comment on the discussions.

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My Office News Ⓒ 2017 - Designed by A Collective


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