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Advertising benefits and reputational risks: Google's new privacy policy and your brand

2nd Mar 2012
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Google's changes to its privacy policy have sparked anger and concern. But what are the implications - both good and bad - for your business?

Changes made by Google to its privacy policy have received extensive media coverage in recent days.
The new policy, which came into play today, means that data from one Google service, for instance Gmail, YouTube or the search engine itself, can be shared across all of its other products.
And while Google insists today’s move is merely a simplification and clarification of the rules, condensing some 60 existing policies into one, there have been widespread concerns about the news.
There are even concerns that the changes may be in breach of European data protection laws and principles.
But while data regulators voiced their concerns about the legality of the move earlier in the week, requesting that the tech giant ‘pause’ to reconsider the changes, it did not stop Google from proceeding.  
In a recent post on the website of the world’s biggest advertising group WPP, Shezad Iqbal emphasised that the implications for advertisers would be abundant.
“Marketers will be able to target specific searchers with paid keyword ads based on their You Tube browsing history, e.g., only put Ford paid search ads in front of automotive video viewers. Such an integrated targeting platform will appeal to agencies and advertisers given the breadth and depth of Google’s data and asset portfolio,” Shezad wrote.
“Furthermore, it will be help Google bolster sales on its display network, which has lagged behind others such as Facebook. The change will also continue to support their efforts in Google+ as advertisers will have will be able to leverage personalised data for targeting in the world’s top search and video destinations, something Facebook can’t do at the moment.”
The dark side
Nonetheless, the move has created a huge amount of concern.
David Bradshaw, research manager at IDC, explains: “’On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog’ was the caption on a famous cartoon by Peter Steiner published in The New Yorker in 1993. It encapsulated a belief that persists to this day — that you can hide your true identity on the internet. However, it is increasingly harder for anyone to hide their identity. We all give up data about ourselves of varying degrees of sensitivity in return for using ‘free’ services. Few people realise just how much data that they have given up — whether knowingly by supplying it when asked, or unknowingly by having their activity tracked by the services they use.
“This issue is coming to a head in Europe, with Google in a dispute with European legislators over the new terms and conditions, which apply from March 1. What essentially Google has done is to tidy up the privacy policies across its multiple services. However, Google has done this to enable the aggregating of information about its users across the many different services that it runs. As a result, it will know more about each of us.”
While Google has worked to notify users of the changes in recent weeks, delivering a series of prominent messages encouraging visitors to click on a dedicated area providing comprehensive details of the new policy, this has done little to quell public concern at the development, while privacy bodies have been up in arms at the development.
And while Shezad Iqbal outlined the possible benefits to advertisers, Bradshaw also indicates that enterprises must also be aware of the dark side of the changes due to the implications to privacy.
“How does this affect the enterprise? There are risks here for enterprises whose employees are leaving a trail of information about themselves — and maybe their employers — on social media and search sites,” he explains.
“The main impact of what Google is doing, once its significance is realised, will be to force the separation of ‘work me’ from ‘private me’, a differentiation that became blurred in recent years with the spread of consumer technology and social media in the workplace. Users need to create separate Google identities for work and home use, even if they use completely different services from Google.
“This is partly about reputational risk to the enterprise, if its employees' online activities — which might be perfectly legal but offensive or annoying to some potential clients — are easily identifiable and traceable to their employer. It is also partly about basic information security. Free Web services such as search and social media are only provided free because the provider hopes to monetise the data being generated, and the information trail that you as an employee leave is surely different from the trail that you as a private individual will leave.”
Bradsaw concludes: “For some organisations, the lines between personal and professional are deliberately blurred, but for most it's now time to start separating these two worlds once again.”

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