The whole “Privacy is dead/Long live privacy” jam is alive and well, and increasingly consumers know whodunit. A quick look at recent stock values of Google, Facebook, and Amazon (among many others that offer “free” products and services for consumer data) tells the tale best. But there is another side of the story–one that involves small- to medium-size businesses and blue chip enterprises alike–that garners less attention.
The small yet growing segment of internet users calling foul are now a regular feature of the online media landscape–call it retail privacy, or the business to consumer version. Apple co-founder and tech folk hero Steve Wozniak has calledfor Facebook users to close their accounts over privacy concerns. Washington Post columnist Geoffrey Fowler similarly recommended switching from Chrome to Firefox, referring to Google’s Web browser as “spy software” and to Google as “the Web’s biggest snoop of all.” Privacy-centric DuckDuckGo, an internet search engine that protects user privacy and doesn’t personalize search results based on past searches, location data, and the like, has seen its traffic grow exponentially year after year (while it still pales next to Google’s market share).
Twenty years ago, Facebook didn’t exist, Google was a perky dorm-based startup with the not-yet-ironic motto, “Don’t be evil,” Amazon was an online bookstore headquartered on the same street as a needle exchange, and Apple was a scrappy underdog in the shadow of Microsoft. Demand for a more privacy-centric internet isn’t guaranteed, but it also shouldn’t be ruled out as its next evolutionary step. Apple, for one, is betting heavily on it.
But while this seems to be the next phase of consumer entrapment for the leviathans of data sifting, businesses are not able to opt out and stay relevant.
But while businesses may be able to figure a way to do without Amazon or Facebook, Google is unavoidable. Starting off as a superior search engine, Google has gone on to not just corner several consumer markets (Android phones, Google Maps), but also to position itself in such a way as to make itself indispensable, and unavoidable, for businesses.
The first and perhaps most important area Google has conquered is search. By creating a superior search engine, Google was able to create the terms of engagement, letting businesses know (some but not all) of what needed to happen on their end to make themselves “visible” on Google searches. What they needed to have involved, among other things, a data taxonomy that was built to work best in the Google search environment, and as a result, Google got to know more about a company than was probably proper.
Let’s not lose sight of why Google has access to this data: It offers the best tools and services out there. It typifies the “build it and they will come” approach to business success.
While there are privacy-minded alternatives for consumers, we need cost-effective solutions to be able to provide secure, non-invasive services to businesses, which probably means weaning the world off of “free.”
The good news is, demand for privacy-for-pay seems to be growing. The bad news is that, until quality alternatives are able to compete with Google, businesses are going to find themselves paying dearly for their “free” services.