Stephen Logan

Does Google Have Double Standards When it Comes to Privacy?

9th May 2012 Analytics 4 minutes to read

Not all that long ago, Google announced that they would be removing keyword data from Analytics to protect signed-in users. Now, in the very same piece of software, website owners are able to see who exactly has linked to their site – including social profile details. Understandably, some industry folk are crying foul play on this particular move. So, is this another case of double standards from the search giant?

It’s an interesting debate, but one in which we may well risk comparing apples with oranges. After all, if you want to find out who has been tweeting your content, the information isn’t all that difficult to find. That said, users might not be too chuffed when they find out Google is offering personal details on a plate to site owners through Analytics.

When it comes to search queries, Google have a unique insight into what goes on behind the scenes. They are able to follow the entire journey of a user, from initial query to final conversion (whatever that may be). This puts them in a privileged position. For years they have been mining this very data, using it for their own algorithmic requirements. However, rather unselfishly, they also passed the majority of it on to site owners through Analytics for free.

(Not Provided) Data

Unfortunately though, a couple of months ago they decided to pull the plug on all this. Rather than simply handing over user data to all and sundry, they withheld some keyword-based information. This left site owners and SEOs in the rather unfortunate position of having to work from restricted data sources. A pox on thee Google!

Then, as that furore was simmering down, the search engine surprised everyone by including the social profiles of users within their new Analytics inbound links section. Surely if you’re protecting the keyword data of signed-in users, the same courtesy ought to be afforded to those who are prepared to share your content online. Well, I guess it depends a lot on your point of view.

Let’s look at keywords first. As mentioned above, Google has a huge amount of data at its disposal, more than any other company. Whilst they’re not short of a few quid, they are still in the business of making money. Now whilst they might be protecting their user’s privacy (at least on the outside), most people know that this update is about the bottom line.

Restrictive Policies are Good for Business

Remember, Google has a premium Analytics package which costs a paltry $150,000 per year! Unsurprisingly this hasn’t been impacted by the changes. Therefore, if there are any huge brands that have been cheap and relied on basic Analytics and are desperate to get their hands on all keyword data, they may be more inclined to bite the bullet and make the upgrade. Even if only 100 took up this offer, that’s $15million annually that they may otherwise have missed out on.

Then, for the smaller online businesses, there is always PPC advertising. Again, you won’t be too shocked to learn that those who are forking out on AdWords still get their keyword data. This provides a nice way of testing which terms are receiving the most searches and delivering conversions to the site. Whilst not a perfect solution, it will help to fill the gaps left by the Analytics blackout.

Private Data V Readily Available Information

So what about those social back links in Analytics? Well, it is a little sneaky and, in some people’s eyes, creepy too; however, this isn’t data that Google is uniquely privy to. You can track tweets through TweetDeck if you should so wish. When we share things socially, we have to expect that it is going to be seen by an end user somewhere – particularly if using a company name or URL within a message.

Analytics therefore is simply acting as an aggregator for available data. Sure, it might be a little two-faced to remove keywords on the basis of privacy and then add personal profiles to the links section, but the two are very different. Google owns the keyword data. It comes from their search engine and therefore they have the ability and responsibility to restrict it as required.

So whilst they may be complying with international privacy rules, the biggest underlying factor has to be money. Why give valuable data away for free when you can push users towards a Premium Analytics account or PPC advertising? Sure, it’s a bit of a punch in the kidneys of long-term users, but that’s their prerogative unfortunately.

As social signals become more important, finding out who has shared content or linked to your site is going to become more important. The inclusion of this data in Analytics shows that Google is taking it seriously and is also able to accurately identify who is saying what. This is very much the future of link building and so it makes sense that it should be included within Analytics or Webmaster Tools. The fact that it coincided with the tightening of privacy rules is slightly unfortunate, but arguably is unrelated.

That’s my two cents anyway, if you think differently please share your views in the comment section below.

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