Battle for web data moves to the ‘frictionless’ social log-in

As marketers, we are clearly interested in who our customers are. We care about who owns, and has control over, our customer data. The rise of digital channels offers new opportunities to capture customer data and, indeed, different kinds of data such as behavioural or social signals.

Ashley Friedlein

However, there is a battle for identity and customer data that is already under way and looks set to escalate. As the gods of the internet tear the firmament asunder, we must consider the implications for us mere marketing mortals.

The four really big prizes of the internet are content, payments, discovery and identity. If you think of each, you no doubt also realise which are the major players – Amazon, Facebook, Google, SalesForce, Apple, Twitter and eBay – and how the battle lines are being drawn up.

There is a lot of activity in the payments space, particularly around mobile. But identity, especially authentication and the social graph, is seeing a blitzkrieg of activity.

Social media authentication is commonplace across the web. Facebook Connect, for example, embeds Facebook functionality into millions of third party sites, applications and gaming systems (as does Twitter) enabling users to log in using their Facebook identity, connect with friends, and seamlessly post updates to their profile.

The launch of Google+ sign-in this quarter similarly enables users to sign in to apps and sites via Google+, enabling the creation of an enhanced experience using the social graph and smart application of data. Using the sign-in enables brands to access a whole range of information via the Google application programming interface (API), including a user’s name, profile picture, Google+ ID, age range, language, people in their social circles, and any other information specifically requested by the app, and can even combine it with other Google APIs to enable access to additional Google services (Gmail, Calendar, YouTube, and so on), though this will require a separate consent dialogue box.

This quarter’s Google I/O developer event featured a series of announcements of new features for Google+, which served to illustrate Google’s commitment to the bigger picture – making Google+ a layer over all other Google services. It is wrong to think of Google+ as a social network. It is, as analyst Benedict Evans described it, a “unified Google identity to tie all of your search and indeed internet use together”.

This quarter, Instagram launched its ‘Photos of You’ tagging feature, which effectively carries Facebook’s people photo tagging feature through into the photo sharing service.

Meanwhile, Amazon has also launched an API for iOS, Android and the web, so that other site owners can allow their customers to log into services using their Amazon account, reducing sign-in ‘friction’. With more than 200 million active Amazon accounts and a potentially seamless link to Amazon services, this is yet another significant play in the battle for digital identity.

Why does this matter? Clearly, for the big internet players, customer data is a vitally important strategic asset to enhance the experiences they can offer to drive adoption, usage and loyalty around their services that are spread over ever-widening ecosystems. But there is also a huge opportunity for us marketers to plug into this data opportunity. We can capture more data through frictionless social log-ins; we can access data on our customers we do not have ourselves; we can access new data points, to power social customer relationship management for example; we can blend and append data across channels to get a much better picture of a customer.

But we need to tread carefully. Who really owns this data? What are customer expectations around permission, privacy and configuration as the lines become grey across the ecosystems? Which log-ins should we add to the interfaces we are trying to simplify for our customers? Once there was just Twitter and Facebook, now come Google+, Amazon and others. As ever, the easy but correct answer is probably to continue to focus on doing the basics better while at the same time experimenting with these new possibilities to see what works best for your business and customers.

Econsultancy is a sister brand of Marketing Week

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