So you pop over to Google to find a flight to Albuquerque or an aquarium for your kid, and suddenly you're being hit with come-ons from luxury companies inducing you to forget the recession that's raging and drop some of your hard-earned bucks on their baubles.
What's going on here? The search giant has found yet another new and potentially lucrative way of segmenting customers for its advertisers. It's targeting users by their FICO scores.
A spokesperson from Google said in a statement , "[T]here are no plans for Google to use FICO related targeting for any of its products or offerings... Google is not targeting individuals based on their credit scores." However, here's what a Google exec had to say about the matter.
"Let's say we have an advertiser who wants to reach consumers with a high FICO score who applied for mortgages in the first quarter," Google senior industry marketing manager Masha Korsunsky told MediaPost in this article. "We can provide the advertiser with a list of Web sites on our Google content network that index against this segment."
Google and data analytics firm Compete just launched a pilot program using Compete's database of 2 million web-browsing Americans. (According to Google, only a "small portion" of these 2 million were involved in the FICO initiative.) A Google spokesperson asserted via email that the search giant doesn't have access to individuals' FICO scores. The spokesperson added that even Compete itself does not have this information, saying that the anonymous matching was done by what it termed a "sister company" of Compete's called Intellidyne. Walletpop attempted to find out from Compete the relationship between their firm and Intellidyne as well as how consumer FICO data was handled. A representative from Compete sent this reply via email: "Google has asked us not to discuss the details of this matching process on the Credit Score research." So, how does anyone get your credit score in the first place? That's easy; you give it to them. According to this article about the pilot program, the participants opted-in to let their credit info be pulled when they signed up for a credit card. (Walletpop PSA: Always, always read the fine print to find out what information you may be giving away to companies when you sign up for a service.) So for now, the program is opt-in and is limited to the data analytic firm's pool of guinea pigs. In other words, you still have to explicitly tell them, "Yes, please use my personal financial history as a tool to sell me more junk!" If this program takes off, it's not a stretch to imagine such "permission" worming its way into the standard contracts of bank and retail credit cards.
If the pilot goes well and Google decides to expand it, those of us with pristine credit (720 and up) can expect to see more ads for higher-priced goods and services and luxury items via the Google Content Network, an ad network that reaches 80 percent of all web users, Google points out, which gives it an even greater reach than that of its flagship search engine.
Initially, Google expects to primarily attract credit-card companies with this FICO targeting. It's a sign of the times. As recently as a couple of years ago, you could practically get a credit card with nothing more than a pulse. Now, card issuers only want the cream of the crop (although they'll still charge even their best customers ever-rising interest rates for the privilege of doing business with them).
Manufacturers and retailers of luxury goods, which have been hard-hit by the recession, are also expected to jump at the chance to reach high-score consumers. According to the article in MediaPost, "Based on the search research, Korsunsky says other industry segments, such as luxury retailers and hotels, could also use this data to reach "high credit-worthy consumers." By targeting those Americans who are capable of paying off a big-ticket purchase over a long period of time, these peddlers of high-end stuff can avoid lowering their eye-popping prices.
Google took pains to stress that it doesn't have access to individual Americans' credit scores, since the technological wizardry the search engine uses to carve users into specific segments preserves anonymity. Still, people might not be too comfortable knowing they're being shown ads for high-priced items because they have good credit. It's more than a little disconcerting to think that the very fiscal responsibility that earned you that good credit score in the first place is being bought and sold in the hopes that you'll fling aside restraint and succumb to advertising.
Got good credit? Google wants you.