The Privacy Game Continues

Google privacy gameWhen I was a little kid, we used to play a game where everyone except one person would line up on one side of the room with the one person facing away covering their eyes on the other side ‘guarding’ the wall. At any point, the person on guard can spin round and uncover their eyes. The goal was to get from one side of the room to the other without the person on guard catching you moving. I cannot for the life of me remember the name of that game… I thought it might be Freeze Tag, but apparently not. In any event, it feels a lot like we are playing that right now with our privacy rights and the online giants.

In this modern online case, it’s the search engines and social media giants which are sneaking up on us trying to get to the other side without getting caught moving our rights. They make progress by tinkering with the long verbose terms of service and user privacy agreements (which none of us ever read). Typically, when one of these changes is affected (like the recent ones to Google+ )  they are couched in ways that are so vague and sweeping that it leaves privacy activists and the FCC reaching for their guns while the rest of us just scratch our heads and get on with life.

I’m a huge user and fan of Google, but this stuff drives me crazy. I actually did read the recent changes to the rules and I’m still in the dark. Here are a few examples: I went to see the brilliant and breathtaking movie Gravity last night. Does me posting about it on this blog whilst I’m logged into several Google platforms count? Can I expect to see “Brilliant and Breathtaking says ThinkJudd” on a billboard some place? Probably not.  However if I went to Google Play and commented on the movie or shared this blog through Google+ (as I will), then it looks like it’s fair game. If I emailed my kids about the movie through Gmail, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t expect to see those remarks recirculate on Google.  I don’t actually mind that much either way about things I post in what are clearly public forums… what bothers me is that it’s not clear what Google intends by the changes.

What will happen (as happens every time) is there will be a few days of excitement and complaints, a few stories in the media about big brother then the news cycle turns and we go on with the new norm firmly in place… until the next time.  We are clearly moving to a new norm where we have collectively agreed to trade much of our privacy rights for convenience and cool toys… tag you’re it.

It’s Tough Being Yahoo

New Yahoo Logo

Image via http://art.raphaellowe.com

I like Yahoo… always have, and it’s tough to see their fortunes continue to flag. Their recent Q4 projections underwhelmed the Street, they projected a tad over 1 billion, sadly the analysts were looking for something closer to 1.25. The brightest spot on their cloudy horizon isn’t even in the US… it’s the Amazon of China Alibaba of which they own 24 percent. If the Alibaba IPO goes as well as anticipated, it will bolster Yahoo’s numbers nicely. Apart from that, Yahoo continues to languish… snapping up cute baubles at what appears to be almost any price without those acquisitions materially moving the numbers.

They have done relatively well this year pulling off a close to 70% rise in value, but their core problem remains that the big search money goes to Google and Facebook is killing it with display and social. Google has made a good run at forcing people to use Google+ with sheer brute force, dragging their integrated social play into relevance, despite the wishes of it’s audience who really didn’t want it.

Sadly, Yahoo missed the social boat… and the twitter boat, the RTB display, and even the search boat. In fact, they have missed a flotilla of opportunities in recent years. For the biggest thing in the Yahoo story to be their ownership of a Chinese eCom giant is frankly a bit sad. Despite all these clouds on their horizon, they remain the largest single inline property with a strong brand and some very strong properties.  Yahoo clearly sees all things mobile as a possible route to salvation, as users migrate to mobile engagement at a more rapid rate that anyone predicted. If Yahoo can become the key providers for digital content across their own apps and mobile properties, then that may be a strategy with legs… we will see.

Thanks For Sharing… I Think

Image coutesy of http://isageeks.com/mobile/google-privacy/It’s been a while coming, but today Google announced the change in their ad and privacy policies. There’s a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo, but the short read is if you endorse, score, or +1 anything on a Google platform like Google Play or Search, then Google may include your smiling face and comments to any of your friends or colleagues in your Google+ circles. The example they give is if you gave an album 4 stars and a rave review on Google Play, the next time one of your friends or family are searching for the same music, restaurant, or Asian Massage parlor… you may well pop up in the result/review.

If you buy that, we are essentially moving to a privacy free world where anything and everything you do online is fair game. This move makes perfect sense. From a commercial point of view, I can see that the endorsement by one of your friends is likely to catch the eye and may well make that searcher more likely to make that selection. If you see the world as descending into an over connected nightmare, where we are all essentially shouting to each other in a fishbowl owned and operated by Google and Facebook, this will likely build your paranoia.

If reinforcement were needed, this week Facebook announced new advertising tools that will allow advertisers to better target ads based on shared interests. The twist here is that they invite the advertiser to state what the goal of the campaign is and, based on Facebook’s extensive knowledge of the behavior of their users, they will put the campaign together for you. In part, I suspect this is a testament to how hard Facebook advertising is to figure out given the limited experience most marketeers have with social media. They are essentially saying “don’t worry your pretty little head… we will do it for you”.

So now we have Google roping us into endorsing products and services on the behalf of those advertisers, and Facebook cutting out the middleman and taking advertisers straight to their targets. Oh… and Twitter is worth a billion dollars… or something.

Now Endorsement Spam?

LinkedIn spammingAs I have mentioned several times before, I’m not a huge fan of social media. I realize it’s a generational thing and I’m probably not in the core demographic. I have a Facebook page, which I think I’ve posted on maybe a dozen times, but I do use LinkedIn. As a hang out place for people with a business interest it works pretty well. I have a lot of contacts (something over a thousand I believe), and I probably know about half of them. If you aren’t already a big LinkedIn user, you may be not be familiar with the LinkedIn way, but it’s pretty easy to find folks online and invite them to contact you. The bar is low… you really don’t have to know (or even have met) them to reach out. That generates a lot of contact spam where folks who don’t know you invite you to connect… and as an easy going kinda guy I usually accept.

A while back LinkedIn added an endorsement feature where you can endorse one of your contacts for a skill or expertise.  I’m not entirely sure how LinkedIn figures out your interests and capabilities, but when you log onto the platform it asks you what one of your contacts knows about something LinkedIn thinks they may know about. It’s easy to do and generates engagement. LinkedIn is constantly letting you know who endorsed you for which skill… fair enough. What’s weird is that this provides the contact spammers with a neat new tool. They can endorse people they don’t know and have never met for skills or experiences that they may not actually have.  For example, the other day I was endorsed for ‘email marketing skills’ by a person I have never had any contact with. I know a fair amount about a range of marketing and online activities… but what I know about email marketing you could fit in the subject line… of an email.

After the endorsement, in many cases, comes the follow-up email claiming credit for the endorsement looking for a meeting or call about something.

In the big picture, none of this amounts to a hill of beans… I really should stop complaining about things which don’t matter… but suddenly acquiring credit from complete strangers about skills or expertise you neither have nor have profess to have is a weird first world problem.

Happy Birthday Google (Sorry I’m Late)

Googles 15th birthday logo

Google turned 15 a week or so back and got the usual breakfast TV chatter to accompany a beloved family member hitting mid teens. I wonder if search engines should measure their age like dogs… making Google 150 or so. They have certainly done an amazing job of hanging in there. A long time ago I was actually selling against them (back when you could sell search as a service to websites).  Google ended that market when they set the price to “free” and started paying sites for their traffic… the rest is history. They have been aided by some monumental mistakes by their largest competitors, and having attained an effective monopoly, they have done an amazing job of using it against their competitors whilst escaping the consequences of monopolistic behavior.  Even the Google haters in the EU look like they are going to settle with Big G rather than clamp them in Irons or keel haul them.

I saw a news story today about the “richest dumb guy on earth”, Mark Cuban, and his Quixotic defense against the SEC accusations of insider trading. At issue is a stock sale of Mamma search shares. Mamma is still there (Lord knows how), and there has been a more or less constant drumbeat of Google wanna-bees who have sprouted (often to acclaim) and gone the way of all flesh. The latest “rival” is Blippex out of Germany. That’s not a skin ointment, rather it’s a new search engine. They use a time on site metric to gauge quality (rather than links), and boast a whole 2 million index pages… a few tens of billions behind Google. That’s part of the problem… once you have achieved critical mass, and market dominance, you can afford the crazy tech and money it takes to index the largest thing mankind has ever made. Competing with that is like shouting at thunder.

Something we have definitely seen change and evolve over time is the “evil” factor. Back in the day when search was a whored-out mess of blue links and banner ads, Google adopted “don’t be evil” as their unofficial corporate slogan. Nowadays, not so much. If you take a look at their actions from their brilliant tax planning (which allowed them to pay a whole 1% of taxes on profits in the UK recently), through to pretty consistent problems with the care and keeping of personal data, it’s possible to find evil of some kind in almost every area… if you care to. That’s part of the Google enigma. They can be seen as geniuses, or evil geniuses for the same behavior. If you fundamentally don’t trust big data, they are the Anti-Christ… if you just want the convenience and low cost of all the cool tools they have brought to the party, you probably don’t care.

Either way they are perhaps the greatest success story of the Internet age, and albeit a little late, I’m happy to add my congratulations… Cheers!