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on Thursday, 02 February 2012
in Industry Report

Google's One Singularity Sensation

Google announced a major change to its privacy policy last week. Starting March 1, all of its products will fall under one single privacy policy, instead of each having its own. This singularity may appear benign, but it may severely impact search marketing, the advertising industry, and Google itself.

While I usually appreciate the colloquial tone of Google’s messaging – “This stuff matters” – very much keeping with its everyman, non-corporate vibe, its casualness merely masks the deviousness of the change.

Gizmodo’s Mat Honan described why the new policy smacks in the face of everything Google has stood for in the past, in a column aptly titled “Google’s Broken Promise: The End of ‘Don’t Be Evil":

Google built its reputation, and its multi-billion dollar business, on the promise of its "don't be evil" philosophy. That's been largely interpreted as meaning that Google will always put its users first, an interpretation that Google has cultivated and encouraged. Google has built a very lucrative company on the reputation of user respect. It has made billions of dollars in that effort to get us all under its feel-good tent. And now it's pulling the stakes out, collapsing it. It gives you a few weeks to pull your data out, using its data-liberation service, but if you want to use Google services, you have to agree to these rules.

It may just be a coincidence that less than a month after Google announced disappointing Q4 results largely on the back of lower ad-click prices, it has implemented two changes – the new privacy policy and Search Plus Your World – directed squarely at pumping up its advertisers at the expense of the average user. But it sure looks bad, and now it’s getting more negative attention than it ever has before.

This explains why Google is spending a whole lot of money in an attempt to convince its users, the media, and the government that its intentions are noble and good. It purchased display ads on WashingtonPost.com (a popular site for politicos and lobbyists, naturally) and tripled its spend on lobbying in Q4 of 2011 ($3.8 million, twice as much as Microsoft over the same three months).

But is throwing so much money around a sign of strength or desperation? Microsoft certainly believes the latter; it launched a print campaign (see below) in three national newspapers yesterday that “takes shameless shots at Google's new privacy policy to try and lure new customers to its own competing services,” AdWeek’s Katy Bachman wrote. She added: “Microsoft's ad copy pulls no punches, accusing Google of making the changes just to please advertisers.”

Microsoft's print ad

Read Google's privacy policy here and decide for yourself if its actions go too far. If you share the concerns of so many others, the World Privacy Forum lays out some great search privacy tips, as does B.L. Ochman on her What’s Next? Blog.

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