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In this day and age it’s not uncommon to feel like you should keep looking over your shoulder while online; there’s almost always one website or another checking you out as you poke around their site looking for pink bunny slippers for your daughter, finding the best way to change a tire, or trying to diagnose yourself based on that cough that won’t go away (honestly, just go see a doctor, WebMD’s just going to tell you it’s cancer anyway).

What you don’t know is that, while you’re browsing, Google is collecting all your information. Let’s break down the good, the bad, and the ugly of this scary and interesting violation of our online privacy.


The Good

Get Those Lingering Questions Answered

Despite the numerous privacy breaches over the years, the data you can glean as a marketer from user behaviour is enormous, especially in this day and age. Not only can you answer important questions like “what device is the most popular choice for my users?” but also questions like “what pages are my users frequenting the most, and what pages did they exit my site on?” Armed with these answers you can push your company forward to make informed decisions about company expansion, website design, user experience, and how successful your marketing campaigns are for your marketing agency.

“Clean-Up” People Who Had An Interest

Google also provides the opportunity to use remarketing campaigns. With these, you can retarget people who initially had interest in your products or services but didn’t convert.his allows you to”re-target” a group of ads specifically to people who have shown interest in your product or service by visiting your website but who may not have taken an action. In this way, the ads will “follow” interested parties and keep your brand top of mind. Yes, it could get pesky, but you can always limit the duration and frequency of those ads to avoid annoying potential clients. It’s a balance.

Catch People When They Most Expect It

Google also provides a solid platform to show your ads to only the most relevant people actively searching for similar (or the same) products and services you offer. In doing so, you reach consumers at the best possible time because they are in the mood to buy. This has given rise to the huge platform of inbound marketing that is the new norm for marketing efforts.

Free Info!

The even bigger benefit for marketers is that this is all free information (for the most part). Google Analytics is a free platform that can be applied to any website, and if you want to know even more about user search behaviour you can create an AdWords account (although you do need to pay for AdWords to get insights). From all of this, you can find the best way to target your consumers and serve them the most relevant ads and improve conversions for your company.


The Bad

Data Breaches

“If you have nothing to hide, why does it matter if I can access your info?” is a common phrase you’ll hear on the internet. If the Cambridge Analytica incident was any indication it does matter who accesses your info and for what purpose.

They Already Know You:

Google doesn’t try to hide how much info you can know about someone without explicitly knowing their name; they lay it all out in their Analytics Academy. They know your age, gender, location (potentially), your approximate household income, and a variety of other behavioural patterns amongst so many other factors.

The Potential Consequences:

While this doesn’t necessarily seem bad for a company whose motto is “Do The Right Thing,” it does mean that information has to be stored somewhere, which also means that information has the potential to fall into the wrong hands, despite the best intentions. All the while Google continues to pull continuous information from your (and everyone else’s) searches and online behaviour.


The Ugly

The Underlying Issue

There is an overarching issue with search engines that can have serious consequences without proper awareness. Since a search engine is essentially a large piece of software it can inherently be manipulated by digging into either the code or the way the software recognizes bits of information. This means that despite showing you a relevant search result, that search result isn’t necessarily unbiased. And this creates problems that need to be taken into account when searching the web.

Example: Image Manipulation

Take, for example, a Google Image Search result for “Donald Trump,” the current US President. At this point in time, if you perform that image search, you’ll get a page of mostly headshots of President Trump. This is because most of the images are likely named something similar to donald_trump.jpg, or president_trump.png and also likely have a small caption that mentions Donald Trump by name. However, someone could create an image of Donald Trump in a clown costume and label it in the same way as above. That image could also potentially show, therefore manipulating the system. Google thinks the image is relevant because it appears to have all the criteria of a relevant image for Donald Trump, but it’s not an image President Trump would want going around. Thus, you could have a “relevant” search result shown to you, but it may be biased around an object, issue, topic, or person if the results have been manipulated in some way.

The Bubble You Didn’t Know You Had

Compounding on these “relevant” search results is the problem of what Google determines is actually a relevant search result to begin with. For example, Google takes into account the computer, browser, and location of your computer to determine what the most “relevant” search results are. This is true regardless of whether or not you’re logged in or if you are or aren’t using an “incognito” window; there isn’t a “base” Google that everyone can access.

This means that Google (and other search engines) are displaying what’s determined as relevant to our search results, but not necessarily what we need to see. Essentially, your search results are constantly being personalized, whether you want them to be or not. This results in a “bubble “ tailored to you; a bubble that doesn’t give you the perspective on what determines what you see, or what you don’t see.


So… Should I Be Scared, Happy, or None of The Above?

More than anything, it’s important to be informed, and as marketers it’s important to keep users in the know about the information being accessed and how it will be used. In addition, yes, Google collects enough info about everyone to probably create a clone of you, but that doesn’t mean that information is going to be leaked tomorrow or that a search result will ruin your life.

You can empower yourself and your company in collecting and using the mass of information about your users to drive your company forward, just make sure to always be doing “the right thing” along the way with the best interests of your consumers at top of mind.

Post Author

Picture of Andrew Buckley

Andrew Buckley

Andrew likes to write. And that's a good thing because he's good at it. He likes Canada, the UK, and of course, pop tarts.