Google… The Worm Turns?

Google has been a remarkable company to watch over the years, operating as a pure product company that reflected Microsoft in it’s prime, which is just to say when Microsoft could make or break a new market by simply introducing a new product. Google also adopted Microsoft’s strategy for empowering product managers with great and absolute authority over products.

Over time Microsoft was defanged by endless interventions by government into their product process, the result of which is that Microsoft is no longer feared by startups and investors even though they still enjoy immense power in the marketplace.

Like Microsoft, Google has made mistakes with products in the past and come under regulator scrutiny for their M&A and product privacy issues. However, unlike Microsoft the attention focused on Google has not been debilitating and Google today is a force unlike any other company, even eclipsing Apple in this regard.

With Google Buzz the heat being applied to Google has become uncomfortable, causing the company to quickly recognize that the blunder was more serious than previous over-reaches. We have seen Google respond very quickly with product fixes and an executive level communication campaign but I wonder if what we are seeing with Google Buzz is the dawn of a new era where Google products are vetted much more comprehensively than in years past in order to avoid issues that product managers are not accustomed to putting front and center, like the reactions of international governments.

Privacy officials from 10 countries Monday sent Google Inc. a letter demanding that the Internet giant build more privacy protections into its services, the latest sign of increasingly international anxiety over Google’s power.

[From Ten Countries Criticize Google in Letter for Privacy Abuses - WSJ.com]

Privacy Getting in the Way

“You have zero privacy anyway, get over it.”
– Scott McNealy, Jan. 1999

Once again we have “privacy concerns” being used to squash efforts to make advertising more effective by targeting it at people likely to want it.

Cable and phone companies say their growth increasingly depends on being able to deliver targeted advertising to their Internet and TV customers, but criticism from privacy advocates is threatening that strategy.

[From Free Preview - WSJ.com]

I admit to having mixed feelings about this. On one hand I simply don’t trust cable companies but on the other I have to wonder what the worst that could come of this is. The risk for privacy advocates is that they are the boy who cried wolf… what damages have actually been incurred because online behavioral data was made available to advertisers. Indeed one of the most successful online advertising networks of all time is Google Adsense and it is predicated on having context to online content that you are viewing or searching.

I’ve written about this many times before, advertising should have some utility and the first step in providing that enabling a better understanding of what I do in order to predict what I want. Online advertising should not be as it is today, which either relies on tricking someone into clicking on it, or as is the case with interstitials, forcing it in front of someone.

What is more troubling about this debate is the effort by some to undermine the rights of businesses offering services by demanding they attach privacy rights where there are none, public online spaces, and at any rate it is well established that it can be voluntarily sacrificed in exchange for some service or product benefit. This is exactly what happens every time you do a search on Google, login to Facebook/Myspace, and watch cable television, as well as a hundred other things we do on a daily basis.

We are currently running a pilot that takes advantage of Myspace’s hypertargeting for distributing widgets. The USA Today Pop Candy widget features content from the very popular column written by Whitney Matheson, featuring celebrity and entertainment news. What we are doing is taking advantage of the profile tags generated by Myspace for every user profile, then “suggesting” the widget based on alignment of those tags to the Pop Candy widget.

Why is this important? Well for USA Today they can drive distribution of their widget, which really just means extend their brand deeper into prospective audiences, in a more efficient manner than slamming an IAB compliant widget through an ad network and hoping people pick it up. For Myspace users they get the promise of more relevant content based on what is inferred by analyzing the content that is already on their pages.

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Oh Yeah, Everyone Can See This

Funny moment in the NewsGator board meeting yesterday when @karlgco had the sudden realization that everyone could see the 3 way tweet chat between her, @bfeld and myself.

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I think there is something in here about how we have become desensitized to the notion of public email. What’s also interesting is how I have collapsed down the things I really want to be private about and impose much more security toward them as a result.

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