Google Takes the Lead with User Privacy — To Their Own Benefit

Written by: Phil Decoteau, Director, Digital

At the Google Marketing Live conference last year, it seemed that every session, presentation, workshop and event made mention of user privacy and how Google was handling data collection and protection. It was mentioned so much it almost became a running joke, “oh, here comes the part where they talk about user privacy for 15 minutes…”

It wasn’t a mystery as to why user privacy was top of mind for Google; Facebook has famously run into issue after issue with data collection and security, while giants like Yahoo and Equifax were brought to their knees by data breaches. Meanwhile ad blockers and consumer distrust and concern about data privacy continues to rise.

Despite the amount of chatter and lip service catered to privacy issues, especially in digital advertising, there is little regulation in the US to reign in advertisers who are increasingly building huge data grids to better target, retarget, and predict user behaviors. While the EU has successfully implemented GDPR, sending advertisers into an anxious frenzy and already resulting in hefty fines from rule violations, in the US, for now, we are meant to lean on things like IAB standards and patchwork safety measures.

Google has decided to take the lead in improving data collection standards. In a recent proposal, Google publicly recommended tighter standards around data collection and privacy related to digital advertising. While tech giants like Facebook and Amazon continue to react to user discontent and crises, Google is taking charge, allowing users more transparency, choice, and control when it comes to advertising preferences. In Google’s mind (and in the minds of most digital advertisers), digital advertising is supposed to be helpful and valuable, not annoying or intrusive.

By amplifying their message of user control and transparency, they are ahead of the curve — Google sees where the digital advertising industry is going and is getting in front of it. Users don’t necessarily care about seeing ads, but they do care about being tricked by advertisers. They aren’t concerned about their data being collected, per se, but they do care about how it’s being protected, shared and/or deployed. They don’t trust advertisers — and why should they?

We’re at the end of the data gold rush. One way or another, in due time, the entire industry will have to move toward more regulation, more transparency and better protection. Google is controlling the narrative and bending the rules to its favor, all the while advancing the message that they are in it for the users’ benefit, not just their own. Google, being in the driver’s seat when it comes to digital advertising dollars, product subscription and use, knows that by providing more control and trust for users, they are setting rival networks at a disadvantage. Can’t meet our standards? You can’t be trusted. If advertisers can’t trust networks, they’ll be more likely to spend on Google. It’s a bully tactic used by poker players that have the largest stack of chips. Google is going all-in on user privacy, while other advertisers are stuck with a pair of twos. We’ll find out who has the hand going forward, and who is forced to fold, but for now, it appears that Google is coming out on top.

Phil Decoteau is the Director of Digital at Norbella, overseeing Platform Media as well as Norbella’s Media Innovation capability. He is a 12-year veteran in the digital media and marketing space. When he’s not thinking about digital media, Phil is hanging with his family, playing on one of many intramural sports teams, or making a cocktail (perhaps all of those at once).

Ongoing questions & confessions of a modern-day media agency.

Ongoing questions & confessions of a modern-day media agency.