Thursday, January 3, 2008

Recognition Marketing - The Rise And (Potential) Fall Of The Holy Google Empire

By David Miranda

Achilles has his heel. Superman has his Kryptonite. The werewolf has his silver bullet. Dracula has his stake through the heart. Google has privacy.

As the search 8000-lb. gorilla enters 2008, it seems indomitable. Search share has increased; it owns YouTube, Blogger, G-Mail, Froogle, AdSense, Feedburner, and it's purchase of DoubleClick just got approved by regulatory authorities. Google fortunes (and stock price) continues on an upward trajectory.

Google's "Achilles Heel" is privacy.

Here is the case. Google (and its wholly-owned subsidiaries) is not really in the search business. It is in the data collection and analysis business. They collect and analyze data from all interactions with many millions of users - all this data is collected without the prior permission of the user. Think about this for a moment. If you search on Google, have a G-Mail account, have a blog on Blogger, visit any site with AdSense, visit any site using DoubleClick, have an RSS feed through Feedburner, or frequent YouTube; the odds are great that Google has been collecting and analyzing your behavior.

Want a scary non-Google example? How about Yahoo!. Yahoo! provided information on a Chinese dissendent to the Chinese government. The dissident was arrested and now sits in prison. Jerry Yang, the founder of Yahoo, was called to testify before Congress and apologized. The Chinese dissident, however, remains in prison.

I use Google in this example because they are the biggest and most powerful, but not the only company on the privacy radar screen.

What happens to Google's fortunes if every person using a Google site or service is asked to opt-in and give their approval before their personal online behavior is shared with third parties for economic benefit to Google and their advertisers, etc.? What happens when privacy advocates take Google to task through litigation? When the government decides to intervene? When Google has to divulge to the public what they collect and how they use the information?

The bottom line is this. Without the prior expressed approval of each use, i.e. opt-in/opt-out, Google's current business model is compromised. It is the elephant in the room in Mountain View.

Stay tuned.