Google’s got privacy

With the launch of Google Dashboard, the argument about online privacy and behaviourally-targeted advertising has entered a new phase. As the dominant provider of search, but with a total reliance on ads for its revenue base, deciding to give greater transparency to cookies and controls is a bold move.

Dashboard may not offer anything new, in as much as Google has always enabled an opt-out from targeted advertising across its multiple services. What is new is bringing together all of the information being held on a consumer into single place to create a one-stop privacy console.

It was immediately matched by the Network Advertising Initiative, a coalition of more than three dozen online ad networks, including Google, releasing a browser plug-in offering a persistent opt-out from data collection on sites serving its members’ ads. As a result, consumers will become even more aware both of their options about being targeted and of the extent of online data collection.

Both of these developments happened in the United States where there is a much greater realm of self-regulation compared to legally-mandated data protection. Just as in Europe, however, legislators have become concerned about privacy issues in response to vocal consumer protests and lobbying. Where representatives sniff electoral advantage, regulation follows close behind.

Google has woken up to the fact that they have not closed the deal with the consumer. Despite providing a wide range of online services for free – from Gmail to YouTube – not all users have bought into the value exchange. Advertisers may position this as services for ads; many consumers see it as loss of privacy for services.

Neither party can expect this to be a sustainable state of affairs. Advertisers need to improve the efficiency of their ad delivery, especially with the growing media inflation affecting keyword bids, and that means getting more data. Consumers have come to expect, even rely on access to online services, yet have not shown any willingness to pay for them. Until they do, advertising is funding their free ride, even if they do not accept the deal.

Google and NAI’s actions are all part of efforts to resolve these tensions and to establish in a more formal way the terms of the exchange. In the same way, Rupert Murdoch is trying to change the online content paradigm by introducing paywalls around elements of his premium websites.

Privacy should be the winner through enhanced transparency, control and options for consumers. Although there is another possibility- that these are just the political machinations of dominant providers looking to entrench their lead in the market. Google’s got privacy – it also has primacy.

David Reed

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