January 25, 2012
Now, as a customer intelligence analyst, I preach a “consolidated view of the customer” to clients nearly every day. I advise retailers, CPGs, and others that creating an optimal experience for customers is nearly impossible without having a clear understanding of their needs and preferences, across all channels and lines of business. But what Google’s doing extends well past traditional “single view” and into “personal data locker” territory.
On the face of it, Google claims that it’s making these changes for the same reason: to improve the user experience. But to remain profitable and keep providing free services to several hundred million users, Google will also use its vastly increased insight about users to sell better targeted (read: more expensive) ads to advertisers.
Is Google’s new policy PIDM-friendly?
I wanted to look at how these changes map to the principles that companies must follow to be successful as personal identity management emerges. Here’s my take:
- Security: Google’s communications about data security generally inspire confidence. It provides users the option to browse more securely — via https, for example, or in Chrome’s Incognito windows — and offers two-step verification for all accounts (a feature that woefully few users take advantage of, IMO). The company is very clear about its systems and procedures for Google Apps customers, and I’d love to see that kind of information for its non-Apps account holders.
- Transparency: This is a tough one. On the one hand, Google is crystal clear about the fact that they really do capture just about everything you do across their massive network. And they let users download, correct, and delete much of the data the company is holding about them.
On the other hand, the case for tying all of a user’s data together just hasn’t been communicated well. Sure, it’s nice to know that it “can provide reminders that you’re going to be late for a meeting based on your location, your calendar and an understanding of what the traffic is like that day.” But neither the mechanics nor Google’s self-regulating policies for these new features are clear. As a result, these very cool potential benefits just come across as frighteningly Orwellian.
Finally, the lack of communication about how Android users can expect to be affected is a gross oversight. More than 200mm Android devices are in use as of November 2011, and Google needs to be far clearer about how it may use the data it’s capturing from those devices.
- Data portability: As I mentioned, Google is increasingly supportive of what it calls “data liberation,” going so far as to support an internal engineering team called the “Data Liberation Front” (no, really!) with the following mission statement:
Users should be able to control the data they store in any of Google's products. Our team's goal is to make it easier to move data in and out.
My question for the new policies is whether this will continue to be supported, given the increasing importance of cross-service data to the overall Google ad ecosystem. And I’m also curious about whether the data captured from an Android device will be portable (or removable!) if users switch to iOS or Windows Mobile devices.
- Data economy: Google doesn’t play in the data economy in the strictest of terms — it doesn’t sell customer data, and it doesn’t charge users for storing or using their own data — so it’s hard to know what a vastly improved dataset is ultimately worth. Of course, even though I can’t calculate it, I have no doubt that some very clever machines in Mountain View are churning out real-time models to maximize the company’s profits against its available ad inventory.
Trouble is, the users who signed up to use Google’s myriad free services did so under the auspices of a value exchange that they were comfortable with. Now Google is changing the equation, increasing value for itself, without quantifying the value for its users. And that just doesn’t square with a mutually beneficial data economy.
So, what does it mean?
Let’s face it: We all knew this was coming. Google+ Search, one-day shipping, and the multimillion dollar “Good to Know” ad campaign all sent clear signals that the company is making a full-court press to become the nerve center of our digital lives.
Here’s what I think will happen:
- Google will have to create a super-simple dashboard that allows users to manage their preferences from one central location — it shouldn’t take me eight clicks to figure out and change a couple of my preference settings.
- I suspect that users will think more carefully about how very much they rely on Google for their digital lives. Some may migrate to Bing, others may dump Chrome. But if nothing else, they will certainly be more aware of their digital data exhaust, and that can only be a good thing.
- Google will have to be far more transparent with how it treats data from multiple devices, and it will have to start quantifying the value for users in the new “single view” environment.
- The very act of creating user awareness and providing finer-grain controls will help drive consumer adoption of personal identity management tools. This, in turn, will increase brand and marketer adoption, bringing a fully consumer-access managed world of data closer to fruition.