Google’s Location Data Blunder Will Only Sow More Distrust

A new report from The Associated Press  revealed that several Google services continue to monitor personal location data, even when consumers explicitly deny access to that information. The usual cacophony of criticism followed.

“Google’s support page on the subject states: ‘You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.’ That isn’t true,” the AP investigation found. Google didn’t deny this, but rather, stood firm that its functionalities were made explicitly clear to consumers. A representative from the company told the AP  that there are both “clear descriptions of these tools” and “robust controls” if people would like to opt out of location tracking.

Tech companies continue to struggle with transparency in the face of growing consumer interest in the minutiae of their data practices. And when they misstep, they should absolutely be held accountable — including, and especially if, user data is being mishandled, inadequately safeguarded, or their processes misleading. What gets lost in all of this, is the potential for peoples’ lives to be completely enhanced by personalization. 

When I spoke with BookingBug CEO Glenn Shoosmith last month, he broached the topic of personalization.

“Everyone is panicky about personal data,” Shoosmith said. “But if you’re using personal data in a positive way — actually, customers will love you for it.”

A May 2018 survey by Blue Fountain Media, a New York-based digital marketing firm, which surveyed more than 1,000 18- to 44-year-olds, seemed to suggest that consumers feel hopeless in the face of massive data breaches and data misuse. Despite 81 percent of the U.S. population having social networking profiles, the survey found just four percent trust social media sites with their personal information (only three percent trust search engines). Nearly two-thirds of those polled download apps without reading the terms and conditions — and if they discovered their favorite app tracked their whereabouts, only 33 percent of those surveyed said they would stop using it.

This would indicate that the user base across the major tech companies is a loyal one. Why is it taking so long to assure users that they’re in good hands? If enhancing the lives of consumers is the goal of personalized ads, why do they report feeling so jaded?

“The irony is, almost two-thirds [of Blue Fountain’s survey respondents] don’t think companies having their personal information leads to a better, more personalized, online experience at all,” said Brian Byer, VP, business development at Blue Fountain Media. “[That’s] the chief reason companies like Facebook say they want the information in the first place.”

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, are average consumers more aware of the pitfalls of personal data collection? Sure. But people are more inclined to follow the default settings available on their devices rather than take proactive, advanced, security measures when opting-in to personalized advertising.

The potential for personalized advertising is, it seems, routinely being squandered because of big tech companies’ collective failure to operate transparently and foster consumer trust. About 98 percent of marketers agree that personalization helps advance customer relationships, and about nine out of 10 reported their customers and prospects expect a strong personalized experience, according to a survey by Evergage.

In November 2007, Mark Zuckerberg stood before 250 advertising executives in New York and promised that a new gold-standard for advertising online.

“For the last hundred years, media has been pushed out to people, but now marketers are going to be a part of the conversation,” he said. “And they’re going to do this by using the social graph in the same way our users do.” It was arguably one of the most seismic events since Google debuted AdWords in 2000.

These tech giants have undoubtedly rearranged the online advertising landscape. But it’s becoming clear that social advertising, with all of its bells and whistles, has largely over-promised and under-delivered. Now, marketers are left to somehow pick up the slack, in the face of plummeting trust in technology giants. Just 41 percent of Americans trust Facebook with their personal information, according to a Reuters study

Until Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc., can restore their users’ trust, the glass-level data and personalization utopia you often hear about likely won’t come into being.

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