Privacy as a Competitive Weapon

A while back I wrote a post titled Google Flirts With Evil in which I argued that Google should offer an aggressive opt-out mechanism for personal dat

"Google could actually take a leadership position on this issue [privcacy] and use it for competitive advantage, I would certainly be more inclined to use Google services over competitors, or anyone else for that matter, if this option [opt-out for personal information retention in personal search] were to be made available to me, but Google probably isn’t concerned about competition at this point and that should concern everyone.a not as a reaction to user concerns but as a competitive strategy."

In a later post that I can’t find right now I wrote about competitive strategy and how parallel disruption works through "restructuring the environment your competitive lives in". Essentially the idea is to disrupt a competitor’s business by creating a set of actions that are not reactions to the competitor but parallel in nature and intended to make the thing the competitor relies on less strategic.

SAP did this to Oracle a few years back when Ellison & Co. acquired Peoplesoft. Rather than get into a race to see who could acquire more, SAP went after the maintenance business with TomorrowNow resulting in Oracle having to shift assets to protect something they thought was safe. Parallel disruption in action.

I actually missed an opportunity with that second post to link it to the privacy issue in search as a great case study. It would appear from recent moves by non-Google search providers that privacy is indeed becoming a main thrust in an attempt to disrupt Google’s game.

"So, whose policy on the privacy issue is the best policy in terms of “really” protecting user’s privacy? The New York Times, thinks its and Yahoo. because with AskEraser, search data logs will be completely erased and Yahoo because of its shorter retention period."

Arnold is not inaccurate to suggest that this may have something to do with concern about the government stepping in if search engines don’t act, but I would bet that this has everything to do with Google dominance in search.

Competitors know that it’s not enough just to be better at search than Google, they also have to take away something that Google depends on for it’s strength, in this case the massive amount of personal data that they collect and the secrecy they maintain while doing it. By making user anonymity and personal data cleansing a competitive strength they can do something to Google that just being better at search won’t, attain a competitive advantage in the market and force Google to respond to them.

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6 thoughts on Privacy as a Competitive Weapon

  1. Jeff,

    You might want to get hold of a copy of Microsoft Patent filing numbers – 2007/0157227 & 2007/0156522 and spend a moment or two reviewing them. Then think about the consequences if they are put into action. Essentially these patents focus on contextual information being collected and then shared to an advertising engine. What’s hard to find is the opt in/out switch.



  2. Jeff,

    I absolutely agree. Speaking as a marketing consultant, it’s always a wise strategy to re-set the playing field when you clearly can’t win against the leader, in this case, Google. Divert attention away from their strengths over to yours. This will be a hot contest, given Google’s dominance.

    I read a few weeks ago (in the Merc I think) that they were having trouble keeping their top talent as they grow and become less entrepreurial. I see trouble brewing there …. will be interesting to see how they respond.



  3. Thanks Jenn.

    I also sense that Google is turning a corner.

  4. Google has to move this way. The EU has an independent panel looking to see if Google is not following its privacy laws in Europe.

    Cheers, Marc

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