Google’s Privacy Policy under Attack again

But there are even bigger issues in this growing battle of Privacy vs. Data Mining.

Privacy Issues and Concerns onlineBrazil’s Justice Minister is pressing Google for details on how it handles users’ personal information under its new Privacy Policy. This type of scrutiny and concern by National Governments is nothing new to Google, as European regulators continue to aggressively pursue Google on Privacy Issues.

But its not just Google that is in the crosshairs of both legislators and users over Privacy issues. Social Media sites, including mega-leader Facebook, have repeatedly coming under attack for crossing the line.  Stories of inadvertently “outing” pregnancies and engagement, based on user’s digital behaviour, continue to make headlines. Sometimes the results are even more serious, even resulting in personal harm when political affiliations are inadvertently revealed.

Why is this a growing issue?

Because of the digital nature of the Internet, and the advent of tracking cookies, each online user journey and each touch-point leaves a unique digital footprint. Some users chose to “opt-out”, by adjusting their browser setting to eliminate the presence of (most) cookies. Others, myself included, recognize that cookies provide them with a better user experience, allowing the storing of preferences and improved communication through personalization.

For online marketers, the opportunity of mining that data for corporate gain is too tempting, and sometimes they cross the “creepiness” line. Digital tracking becomes digital stalking. And Governments have an obligation to step in and protect the mostly unwary public.

Beyond these broad industry implications, individual corporations that cross the creepiness line will damage their reputations and their trust factor. Trust is critical in the online world, and, once damaged, extremely difficult to repair.

Which side will win?

Privacy Advocates or Corporations? Only time will tell. But if corporations continue to step over the “creepiness” line, and continue to disregard legitimate privacy concerns, then everyone on the Internet will lose in the end. The efficiencies and advantages of true 1:1 marketing and sales, beneficial to both companies and customers, will never be realized.

How to stay onside and maintain your customer’s trust

If you are wondering where to draw the line on Privacy vs. Personalization in your organization, here are ePath’s recommendations:

  1. Implement a comprehensive, transparent, best-of-class Privacy Policy. The Canadian Govt provides a wonderful tool to help shape your policy. Promote this policy, don’t hide it. Make it a point of positive differentiation.
  2. Ensure that all your online data partners share this policy. The weakest link sets the standard.
  3. Clearly and actively communicate the benefits of tracking to your users, including personalization, better service, and greater efficiencies.
  4. Make it easy for users to “opt-out” and honour their opt-outs promptly
  5. And, at all cost, resist crossing the “creepiness” line.

Until next time – Axel

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Gabrielli Nolasco says:

    Great post!
    I agree that Google is scaring people with this new policy; but maybe the real reason why we are so afraid is because the line that internet offers us regarding privacy is extremely thin.
    We all know that is very easy to obtain any sort of information online and most importantly that WE are exposed to everything in the online world.
    Unfortunately I truly believe that this Google Privacy Policy is just the beggining of the end…

    • Axel Kuhn says:

      Let’s hope that Google is “listening” to all the negative feedback, and responds appropriately. Thanks for stopping by, Gabrielli!

  2. Amalia Veneziano says:

    Good post with links to documents that are helpful in building a company’s privacy policy. The transparency of ePath’s recommendations make a client comfortable and trusting that they can consent to a clearly defined tracking sytem or opt out.

    It is amazing that human nature strives and builds tools to obtain more information to be better informed about competitors, clients and social invidivuals. However, how can we deal with the natural inclination to”know more”? Sometimes you want to know more to give you a competitive edge and have resources to find that information. Yet I am concerned that companies such as Google can tailor our searches based on our previous search usages. For example, my searches for “handbags” yield a context that is different from searches made by my colleagues. This means my “learning” options are being limited and shaped by google. A useful site that elaborates on this issue: http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles.html

    • Axel Kuhn says:

      Thanks for sharing this link, Amalia. This is a HUGE issue! Goes right to core democratic personal values. Does Google become “Big Brother” by limiting (or adjusting based on their “better” wisdom) what we can see (and what we can’t)?

      Google needs to add a simple “Do not Personalize Search” button on their Search Engine. If they don’t, they are inviting a big negative backlash.

  3. Lia Salvarakis says:

    It seems this concern will now lead to the creation of new legislation regulating the buying and selling of consumer information.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/27/business/ftc-seeks-privacy-legislation.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&hp

    This takes the “opt-out” a step further with a “Do Not Track” policy. This will help with consumer trust issues but it will be interesting to see the push back from the advertisers and data brokers. This is definitely an e-business trend to keep a close watch on.

    • Axel Kuhn says:

      Agreed. See Dione’s comment below on the just-released FTC recommendations. Changes are coming, and eBusinesses can either lead or be forced to follow. As a business, I would rather be out in front of this trend.

  4. I couldn’t agree with you more that companies, especially Google, need to be more transparent. It’s the only way to gain greater reputation, creditability, and trust in the marketplace. I know many people simply can’t be bothered sorting through their browser settings to ensure privacy.

    Pinterest is a great example of a new social network taking plenty of flak for not disclosing their policies more clearly. I discuss it in more detail at http://robmatys.com/pinterest-nothing-in-life-is-free/

  5. Yuliya Bilous says:

    Basically, everything’s got its price. These recent issues with Google Privacy Policy only prove it. We are so used to a comfortable, convenient and “free” way to access the information and communicate with the world that we are ready now to pay for this service with our personal privacy.

    I also found below link interesting, especially on the options suggested to those who don’t want their data to be collected.
    http://venturebeat.com/2012/01/27/google-privacy-policy-response/

    Though, I don’t think anyone is going to make it so complicated for himself. It is too tempting to just Google.

    • Axel Kuhn says:

      You’re right about everything having a price. “Free” is anything but free. Many of the social media sites ask users to trade access to their personal content for free use of the social media tools. Is that a fair trade? More and more, users feel that price is a little steep.

      eBusinesses (incl. Social Media Sites) need to treat users and user personal data with more respect. Especially those that wouldn’t even exist without “free” user-generated content.

  6. Good post. Looks like some corporations are trying to stop themselves from stepping over the “creepiness” line. Pinterest is a hot topic right now and has come to realize that maybe it went a little far in the beginning.

    New privacy policies beginning April 6 will see “easier to understand privacy policies that better reflect the direction our company is headed in the future”.

    http://mashable.com/2012/03/24/pinterest-updates-privacy-policy-terms-of-service/

    • Axel Kuhn says:

      They also reversed their initial terms which stated that Pinterest could sell your content. That was WAY over the line. Good to see that they responded positively to user concerns, and eliminated these aggressive terms.

  7. Zuber Jeewa says:

    As usual, great insight here. What a fine line we as marketers have to walk in this age of social media. As marketers it is the ideal thing to be able to have so much pertinant psychographic and behavioural data on each customer, and that makes where to draw the line even more difficult.
    What a lot of people and businesses neglect to understand is that not just credit card information, addresses and phone numbers are considered personal info, but actually your entire browsing history is really your personal information and nobody should have access to us that without your consent. For more information on this and how Google managed to slip one under apple check http://www.faronics.com/2012/service-vs-privacy-where-do-we-draw-the-line/

  8. Thank you. This is a very informative post! I definitely agree with your stance on the negative aspects of Google’s Privacy policy. All companies, whether small or multinational have to be transparent about their privacy policy, as well as “truly protect” the privacy of all digital users and customers alike. If Google, etc., do not comply, they will severely damage their crediblity, as well as the overall online marketplace.

    As of yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission released their final report on Protecting Consumer Privacy – http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2012/03/privacyframework.shtm. American companies now have defined Best Practices that they can implement and adhere to. The FTC is also going to recommend that Congress consider enacting a variety of privacy legislation that covers general privacy, data security, breach notification and data brokers. The FTC believes that companies can protect their customers privacy as well as provide creative services. I hope that continued government and privacy advocate group involvement will move the topic of transparent policy in the right direction – the light.

    • Axel Kuhn says:

      Thanks for sharing the FTC report. I especially like their recommendation to simplify “Do-Not-Track”. Should be a simple push of a button. I hope Google is listening, because they certainly have the know-how to easily create 2 buttons on their Search Engine. “Do-Not-Track” and “Do-Not-Personalize” (search).

      More on this in a new post later this week!

  9. Moira Sherman says:

    Great post with a helpful link for new and existing Canadian e-business companies to use as guidance for creating a clear and transparent privacy policy online. This issue certainly highlights the incredibly complex relationship between consumers and companies that provide us with endless possibilities in learning, entertainment and communications. Privacy laws are often implemented too late for the rapid speed at which technology is moving and how pervasive it really is, plus we are incredibly dependent on companies like Google. They would vastly improve their public trust perception by creating easy Do Not Track functions in the form of an accessible button as mentioned. Particularly in Europe, internet privacy is viewed as a fundamental rights issue, not only as a consumer issue as we tend to view it in North America. Plus, they would help repair damage to their reputation by putting such trust measures in place quickly. For further information on this topic, check out this article:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/23/technology/google-privacy-inquiries-get-little-cooperation.html?smid=pl-share
    –Moira Sherman

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