Home How Google Can Take the High Road on Privacy

How Google Can Take the High Road on Privacy

Both Facebook and Google gave 5 minute pitches last night at the New York Tech MeetUp event. Over 400 people came to IAC’s stunning Frank Gehry designed building, overlooking the river. It had a massive 100 foot long video wall for the demos.

New York can be a tough crowd for an “out of towner”, with an unsual mix of hardboiled Wall Street and Mad Ave biz types, plus wild (almost anarchic) creativity. The Google presenter was from the New York office. She knew she wasn’t giving out any new information that everybody had not already seen in the Blogosphere. The Facebook presenter seemed more ill at ease. A fairly well-informed question got the response: “oh, it sounds like you have been reading Valleywag or Techcrunch”. Maybe the muttering of the crowd put her off.

Is Facebook’s Ad Network Like Amway?

Many people have pointed out that Facebook’s monetization could alienate its audience, unless handled extremely delicately. When you need to justify a $15 billion valuation, delicacy may not be a top priority. Silicon Alley asked the reasonable “show me the money” question – will you get paid to make a referral for a brand? If so, how fast does this become like an Amway scheme? If it is not about cash, what is the value? Facebook gave an example of Blockbuster as an advertising partner. If I am a Facebook user and I rent a movie from Blockbuster, I can opt to have this movie choice sent to all my friends. Why would I do that and why would my friends be interested?

Coca Cola wants to be my friend? Surely the Internet can be used for something more meaningful than this?

About a week ago I wrote that we were about to witness a loud noise and mess, caused by the irresistable force of personalization hitting the immovable force of privacy. There is a saying: “a week is a long time in politics”. Well maybe now it is a long time on the Internet! Since my last post there have been calls from the FTC for a “Do Not Track” list (stop cookies, following on from stop telemarketers and spam) and now the final unveiling of the Facebook monetization strategy.

Google Played Hand Brilliantly

Meanwhile Google played their hand brilliantly. They unveiled OpenSocial, taking the “open” high ground and a lot of wind out of Facebook’s sails (to mix some metaphors!). And with Facebook aligned with the old Evil Empire Microsoft, Google has a chance to recover their “Do not be evil” aura.

If they also take the high road on privacy, they will blow the competition out of the water. They can do this because they can afford to; and their competition cannot afford to. They don’t need to amass lots of information about me to serve relevant ads to me. As long as I keep on searching, Google knows my intentions. Sure they could offer something even more powerful if they track and synthesize all my searches in the last 3 months, but at what cost in terms of spooking and alienating me? For what marginal extra value to an advertiser?

So Google could back the “Do Not Track” legislation and comitt to more rigorous restrictions on search history.

That would be hard for Facebook to trump. They could take a really bold move and launch something like Vendor Relationship Management (VRM). Yes that is a totally “out there” idea, but it could resonate with Facebook’s audience and deliver real value. Say 25 of my friends want an iPhone, well then can we get a discount? That moves from one friend spamming and making money off other friends, to all the friends benefiting equally.

Other Highlights from NY Tech Meetup

Microsoft gave a great demo of some new “ultra rich media” stuff coming out of their R&D labs. The message was good for the audience; we are geeks like you, who like building hard core technology.

The real star of the show for me was Vimeo. This is real high definition video for the professional or aspiring professional video crowd, no copyright issues or offensive material. It looked like the Mac to YouTube’s PC.

But back to the Google vs Facebook issue. What do you think — will Google take the high road on privacy?

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