So what's all the hulabaloo around Google's privacy updates? There's a lot of misinformation circling out there despite Google's attempts to clear the air, so let's break down what exactly Google has done with users' information, why there is so much controversy around the privacy changes, and what marketers can learn about privacy, user data and information, and mitigating controversy from what has become a mildly dramatic news story.
What You Need to Know About the Google Privacy Updates
- The Information Google Collects: Google collects information in two ways. Either you give it to them when you sign up for a Google Account -- like your name, email address, telephone number, or credit card number -- or Google collects it when you use their services -- like the websites you visit, how you interact with ads, the device you're using, where you're located, and search queries you've entered. You can view the full list of information they collect here.
- How Google Uses That Information: The information Google collects is used to improve its products and services and deliver more relevant content. For example, Google may tailor search results and ads, record communications with Google to help contextualize future conversations, or record your language preferences for a consistent user experience across all products.
- How to Access That Information: You can review and update your personal information by controlling the type of information tied to your Google Account, editing your ad preferences, adjusting how your Google Profile appears to others, controlling with whom you share information, removing your information from Google services, and setting your browser to block all cookies associated with Google services.
Why Is There Controversy?
Whether this comes as a surprise to you or sounds like pretty standard stuff, I think the controversy stems from three feelings.
1.) Once Burned, Twice Shy - In the ongoing controversy around online privacy, Facebook is often cited as an offender because of its habit of quietly changing privacy settings, opting people into less private settings that makes pieces of profile information suddenly public, and then forcing users to navigate a less-than-intuitive interface to regain control of their privacy. When you combine this history with a Google user base in the hundreds of millions -- not all of whom understand the intricacies of cookies, IP addresses, and server logs -- the worst case scenario is bound to be assumed. Congress even wrote a letter to Google asking the company for further clarification on its collection and usage of private information, and the security measures Google has in place to ensure that information is securely encrypted.
Bottom line is, more people get how their information is collected and used that might not have understood it before. While some people see this as something that will make their online lives more efficient and personalized, others interpret it as just plain creepy.
3.) Having Control Over Your Privacy Is a Stretch - Google is publicizing this privacy update as one that gives you more control over what information you share, and what information you keep private. But the truth is the only way to fully opt out of sharing your information isn't a viable option at all -- because you have to stop using Google and its products almost entirely. It's a fair clause; you have to agree to the privacy policies of the other companies with which you do business. But when your product or service is an integral part of the everyday lives of millions (if not billions) of people, opting out is a reach, making personal privacy a myth.
What Marketers Can Learn From Google's Approach
Whether you think the privacy update is no big deal or the beginning of the end of privacy on the internet, there are some lessons marketers can learn from the privacy controversy Google is navigating.
- Google had until February 16th to respond to Congress' letter of concern, but it had its ducks in a row and got back to them immediately. Google understood that the sooner questions are answered, the sooner we can all move on to another controversy.
- Google's reliance on valuable user data is just like ours. The lead intelligence marketers gather based on visitor site behaviors is a crucial part of lead nurturing success, and contributes directly to our bottom line. It would be foolish not to use the information you have about your users to improve their experience with your product or service.
- Google knew this change would face some criticism, but it mitigated backlash by being extremely clear and public about the updates. Along with email communication about the change, every time I use a Google product or service, I see this:
So instead of hiding its changes like Facebook did, Google took the time to make these changes visible across all of its products, and provided more than a month's notice before the changes go live so any questions can be answered and concerns alleviated.
Finally, a consistent and convenient user experience is something all businesses should strive for. From your website, to your product or service, to your messaging and communications, your prospects and customers should feel like less of a number, and more of a person. If we're in an age where information is everywhere, what level of privacy do users expect? And how much are they willing to sacrifice a great user experience for control over their personal information? I suspect as with most updates of this nature, the controversy will die down once users realize that not only will Google move forward with these updates, but Google is too intricately tied into their day-to-day lives to extricate themselves from usage.
Do you think Google's privacy update means something dangerous for the state of privacy on the internet?
Image credit: Sean MacEntee