Why the sudden change?A few years ago, Google was getting a lot of flack--and still does--for tracking user data for advertising purposes. Facebook’s FBX Exchange was another example of this “creepiness” factor that left some feeling paranoid. Fast-forwarding to this year, the amount of populist rage toward NSA wiretapping has been a major catalyst for tech companies and social networks to reconsider their marketing strategies.
Google, usually not one to cower to anti-consumerist groups, has long been a proponent of making advertising easier. Since the internet and any of its websites are a voluntary service, there has been no incentive to ease up on ad ranks or sponsorships. Not only is this Google’s bread and butter, but it’s also their right as a privately held company. Only the market can determine how this king of the web operates its business.
But what happens when the market shifts?Sure, the public seems to have gotten over the fact that, yes, any product requires an amount of promotion in order to sell; and its sales are based on popularity, not how “worthy” or “lame” it is. However, despite the waning of movements like Occupy Wall Street (which emanated from anti-consumerist groups like Adbusters), a new obsession with online privacy is in full force. In the past, privacy hawks were mostly concerned with government surveillance, regardless of the need for national security. Now, consumers are complaining about the policies of public websites. And Google is going along for the ride.
So, what’s the worst that could happen?Why is it such a bad thing to make it tougher for big corporations to force their products on us, or to keep our data from federal investigators, who will probably throw us in Guantanamo for buying a joint at that keg party last weekend?
It’s a bad thing, because it hinders Google’s ability to perform its central task--to help us find what we’re looking for.
What are the highest ranking businesses listed on Google? The ones that have the most money, or best SEO professionals (which cost money). How do these businesses make their money? By offering a superior product that more people will want to buy. In this way, Google is a popularity contest, listing businesses mostly according to their website visits or the time spent on these sites by unique users. It makes a lot more sense than getting a bunch of independent, organic-only burger joints when you’re searching for the phone number of your local fast food restaurant. Google knows what most people are really looking for.
As for security, for every instance of Google “spying,” you can probably find a hundred more cases of criminals being caught by using Google Earth or Street View.
It seems that Google is trying to keep a balance between listening to its consumers, and doing its job. Added to that is the obligation any large company has to its shareholders, and--especially for an entity like Google--the vast amount of funding that can be used to pay for scientific research and technological innovation. Imagine the amount of medical milestones we could have missed out on without Google’s contributions, or the CIA operating without use of 3D satellite imagery.
This fork in the road requires a difficult decision to be made, one involving everything from foreign policy, to civil liberties, corporate management, national defense, and social responsibility.
It’s certainly a position most people wouldn’t envy.
Jeremy Rappaport is a marketer at Fueled, New York’s leading mobile app development.