Google, Privacy and the Modern World

Its here, it’s happened. Yesterday Google rolled out its new privacy policy changes originally announced back on Jan. 24 – an announcement that caused some serious media coverage and a big uproar from the collective community.

Why? Individual policies from more than 70 of Google’s products and services were being consolidated into a single privacy policy: “One Policy, One Google Experience.” This follows one of Larry Page’s themes since retaking the CEO helm, which has been consolidation of products, and sun-setting several that have become ingredients into other products rather than carrying enough weight to be stand alone.

Immediate reaction

From the perspective of a digital marketer and an end user, Google has taken the right approach to this change in announcing it five weeks early to get the word out, let all sides debate the change, and have enough time for things to settle down before they actually pulled the lever yesterday.

This is much more calculated than we have seen with Facebook’s infamous string of pushing large feature updates that many have said infringe on users’ privacy, creating waves of backlash from the community and internet privacy groups. Google is taking its time, which will help them tremendously in the end.  The added value of Google’s advertising platform will continue to keep advertisers, digital agencies and shareholders happy.

So what does the privacy change mean for marketers?

Digital marketers are used to working in silos of data across Google’s Web properties. Case in point: Google PPC ads bought on the the search results pages are based on the ability to target a list of keywords to the specific search term, but has no relevance to any other actions users were doing across Google’s vast ad network.

Likewise, Google’s ad platform allows you to place ads across its display network based on either specific site targeting options or based on matching specific keywords on a page to trigger your display placement. But these ad buys again had no relationship what you were doing while using Google’s search engine. Initiatives like Google’s remarketing features worked to build small bridges between these areas, but required additional code, specific search based landing pages, and the understanding of building user generated cookie pools — not interests, something for which Facebook is better valued.

With the walls broken down at Google between Search, YouTube, Gmail, Blogger, Google+ and services like Google Docs, the anonymous data can be used to develop a much more robust persona (online user profile) for advertisers. This allows the advertiser to become more efficient in the areas of demographic and psychographic targeting, campaign scope, and advertising message. While the end results may actually be higher CPCs due to the granular nature of the targeting options, the ROI on each campaign will ultimately improve when compared to a control set of unlinked campaigns.

Probably the biggest change we will see to online advertising with this policy change will be that search results will become inherently personalized: a custom search result based on your past internet digressions. This means over time no two search queries should deliver the exact same results from two different people. Information gathered from Gmail, YouTube, and past search behavior will drive a custom search results page from a new algorithm leveraging a data set several magnitudes larger than the one it is working with today.

What this means for the future?

Mobile seems to have a pretty big implication here as Google could use your interest history from search results and content pages to deliver location-specific advertising when you are out and about on your smartphone. Think Google Offers plus location-specific deals or more general messages. The functionality may already be here as Google has hinted at the ability to let you know if you may be late to your meeting based on your calendar, current location, and traffic conditions.

Should end users care?

Privacy update backlashes are nothing new as we noted above, and this update has generated some serious buzz (see fig 1), but truth be told Google was already leveraging user data in most of its services so little has changed on that front. The fact that it can be used to drive more relevant ads between the different services feels “creepy” to some, but it’s really a matter of preference since your user data is anonymized in the process.

The un-silo-ing of the data blocks means advertising will become much more relevant to you. Users of Google products can always “opt-out” of receiving personalized ads (whether signed in or signed out). Google also remains steadfast that it will never sell your information to advertisers.

Interest in “Google Privacy”