Google Needs A Location-Based Play

One thing that never fails to amaze me about the human race is how predictably we lie to ourselves. I recently attended a talk by Peter de Jager, a change management guy, in which he pointed out that any argument against the uptake of a new technology that involves its size or price is useless. "Nobody will ever use a computer at home because they are way too big and expensive," etc. We laugh about those statements now, and yet we continue to say similar things about newer technologies.

I like the way de Jager thinks, and I'm going to apply his syntactical model to our online lives. Here's Colbin's Axiom: Any argument against the uptake of a new online service that involves its invasion of privacy is useless.

All anyone has to do is look at Facebook's history to see Colbin's Axiom in action. Imagine going back 10 or 20 years to explain to people that, in 2010, 500 million folks will share all the most intimate details of their lives in an at least semi-public forum. Tell them that only a fraction of a percent of this population will even notice that there was something inappropriate about Beacon, or that the changing of the default settings to the nearly-impossible-to-opt-out everything-is-public-to-everyone mode was an egregious privacy violation.



Tell them that millions will be tweeting their most random thoughts. Tell them that Google will be storing their search histories and clickstreams and personalizing results and ads even when they're not logged in.

Nobody would believe you. And, just as we display 20/20 hindsight when it comes to the size and cost of new technologies, we laugh or tut-tut at the naiveté of these earlier versions of ourselves -- and then turn around and continue to display the same naiveté.

At least, I do. When Eric Schmidt came out in the Wall Street Journal last week saying that most people "want Google to tell them what they should be doing next," I thought, "Like heck I do!" When author Holman Jenkins envisioned a not-too-distant future in which "[i]f you need milk and there's a place nearby to get milk, Google will remind you to get milk. It will tell you a store ahead has a collection of horse-racing posters, that a 19th century murder you've been reading about took place on the next block," I thought, "Nobody will ever go for that!"

It's one thing for Amazon to extrapolate that, because I like one book, chances are I'll like another, or to tell me what percentage of people who viewed this item ended up purchasing it. It's quite another for technology to engage with me by connecting the content of the book across platforms or all the way into the physical world. It seems invasive.

But if there's one thing the human race has proven in the Age of Zuckerberg, it's that our limits of invasiveness are a lot more fungible than we ever could have imagined. The Journal article seemed creepy, but imagine if a press release came out tomorrow: "Foursquare and Amazon partner for real-time/real-world recommendation app." Doesn't sound particularly far-fetched, does it?

Nope, the privacy arguments don't stand up to behavioral realities. Instead, it's execution and expectation that make or break our online services. When we're on Foursquare, we expect the service to know where we are (that's the point, duh); likewise if we've checked into Facebook Places. For Google to alert you to those nearby horse posters, they're going to have to get with the location-based service program, pronto.

Would you check in with Google? Or is it just not that kind of relationship? I look forward to your comments, here or via @kcolbin.

7 comments about "Google Needs A Location-Based Play ".
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  1. R.J. Lewis from e-Healthcare Solutions, LLC, August 24, 2010 at 10:19 a.m.

    There is a correlation between the intimacy of our thoughts and ideas we convey into a system and the privacy expectations around that system.

    Sharing some basic information with "friends" on Facebook seems OK, but when the rules change as to who can see that information, we have an issue.

    Doing very intimate searches on Google (ie. Health concerns, divorce procedures, child disabilities, etc...) carries a higher expectation. Eric Schmidt on a CNBC special, when pressed on whether it's OK for Google to save all of these queries and use them later for ad targeting, came off as scary when he basically said, buyer beware. People shouldn't be searching intimate details, they have to watch what they enter into a search engine. That comment made me sad because it indicated that either 1.) Schmidt doesn't fully understand the power and potential of his brand... every brand strives for a relationship with its customers that is so high trust that people share that information with it. 2.) Google's taken the wrong path and the trust is disintegrating.

    Information, like money, is a very powerful thing that must be treated with the utmost respect. Both can be used to do tremendous good, and both lead to strong temptations that often corrupt.

    Is Google breaking its most solemn vow and doing evil?

  2. Mai Kok from So What, August 24, 2010 at 10:33 a.m.

    You're wrong about the invasion of privacy. You need only refer to your own opening sentence "...we lie to ourselves."

    Exactly. We lie to ourselves. We love to lie to ourselves. Especially Americans.

    Just look at all the hypocrisy that riddle American lives. You want to support "green" companies but you still buy SUVs, drive everywhere, buy mcmansions. You fool yourselves into thinking the actions you take live up to your values.

    Or how about some more mundane? You complain about being fat or overweight, yet there are still lines out the door for fast food restaurants, pizzas, and other junk. Half of the average American's weekly groceries includes processed foods and soda pop. You complain about being fat yet the diet/fitness industry is a billion-dollar industry. New supplements come out every day. Gym fees keep going up.

    Lying to ourselves, holding up different standards is what we do. Look at how Americans like to think of themselves as "freedom loving" and all that - yet gay marriage is still a debatable topic?!?

    Or how about the do not call list and all these "consumer protection" enacted by the gov't over consumers' own bad behavior?

    Foursquare and FB Places may take off until it gets abused - then the pundits will come out crying wolf and the gov't will enact more legislation to obfuscate the situation even more - when the simple solution should have been: dont create the problem in the first place!

    This invasion of privacy is exactly that. It's invasion. It's voluntary invasion but invasion.

    What happens when a stalker kills someone thanks to Foursquare or FB Places? Remember the Craigslist killer?

    We might be able to celebrate catching a cheating spouse, a cheating employee, or even suspected criminals or illegals -but the minute an innocent is victimized by this, people will cry wolf.

    And suddenly all this happiness over social media will disappear.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 24, 2010 at 10:36 a.m.

    This is the wrong statement. It is not a question of useless. It is very useful to those who want to track you and use you. The Google religion was developed to deceive for power and control. Just because we are told lies repeatedly with hardly any space in between does not mean they are true or trustworthy. This goes for outside Googlenomics. Think religion; think extremists.

  4. Bruce May from Bizperity, August 24, 2010 at 3:31 p.m.

    Kaila is not completely wrong here. We do not all share the same attitudes toward these concerns. Many are willingly give up their privacy as Kaila points out when millions of FB users share the most intimate details of their lives for the whole world to see. If you cant' be famous for 15 minutes at least you can feel like your life is interesting to others. All the comments about the dangers are of real concern and will eventually be addressed as society, and the law, work out solutions for how we deal with the merging of online and real worlds. The online world is just an extension of the latter. Google may be flirting with the dark side but I don't think Eric has turned into Darth Vader yet. Clearly, we will be diving deeper and deeper into these issues as the solutions race ahead of our ability to second guess the consequences. For my part, I lean toward privacy protection and while I am completely open about myself professionally online, you will find it difficult to learn anything about my private life... and I want to keep it that way... I even quite using Google except when I am working. I would tell you how I search online in my personal life but that would be giving too much away.

  5. Andrew Chapman from | Inside Profiles, August 24, 2010 at 10:46 p.m.

    Interesting theory to this article, but it begs the question. What of a Google / Facebook monstrous partnership? Any thoughts? ... Secondarily I think, that with Google's legendary algorithmic innovation, it would be tackful enough to simply exploit the fact that facebook has exploded in value mainly due to it's api development with sites that are too lazy or dis-interested to implement their own similarly valuable "like" tracking system. My guess is that is why the Facebook clan held off the 'Places' launch until well after it's api's spread their tenticles.

    Take a community site with millions of visitors for example, that focuses its efforts on commentary, but then gives it away to Facebook api instead of building it's own network of registered users & social activity.

    I beg to question.... Couldn't google offer the same api integration, & promote it for their "buzz" or etc.? The fact remains that most websites rely on Google analytics, adwords, or adsense. One would think it would be easy for them no? I don't see Google pushing their social app functionality.

    In closing, I point to the old fashioned 'metacrawler' fuction. I am not a programmer, but couldn't Google in it's all powerful awesomeness just write an algorithrm that crawles for Facebook likes, and/or launch a 'built in' app on the android OS that automatically gives enough location info to exploit location based tech further.?

    Truthfully I think that Google could, and will (likely) but the difference between Facebook & Google (to me) is trust & transparency. Google clearly explains how to protect your privacy IN DEPTH. See: You can opt out (like other sites), but you don't lose fuctionality, and they explain what, why, when, & how to understand it all.

    Whereas (why I hate Facebook) you can't use the service without giving them your data.

    The only answer to Privacy concerns online is users AWARENESS. As online marketers, some of us think "it's there for me to use", but what unrully percent of interent users have no idea how to opt out?

    I hate the thought of making people rich from friendly interaction don't you?

    The real money will be made on a full scale awareness initiative as a social app. Users quit Facebook to go to a more "un-trackable" network.

  6. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, August 25, 2010 at 12:44 a.m.

    Hey, thanks for all the thoughtful comments! I suppose I wasn't completely clear with what I meant by "useless". Perhaps what I should have said is, "Privacy concerns will never prevent the uptake of a sufficiently addictive service..." or something like that.

    @Al, surely you don't think Americans have a monopoly on self-delusion?

    @R.J., the truth is that trust is only disintegrating on a micro scale. The vast majority of Facebook and Google users still have no concept about how their data gets collected, tracked, and used for targeting -- and the ones that do know don't feel pain from it. THAT'S why privacy concerns don't inhibit other behaviors.

    Thanks as always for reading and sharing your insights!

    All the best,

  7. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, August 25, 2010 at 3:10 a.m.

    [We might be able to celebrate catching a cheating spouse - but the minute an innocent is victimized by this, people will cry wolf.]

    Those who "cheat" are often innocent in that they can't help it if their spouse spent too much time on the fast food line. I would be furious if another man told my wife about a mistress and he wouldn't dare "celebrate" that in front of me.

    The reference to stalkers comes straight out of Marxist feminist ideology. Obviously, people should use LBS carefully, but a murder or two will not change the human nature to coordinate where they are going and succeed as an excuse for Big Brother government to come to the "rescue" of the stupid proletariat and enact so-called "privacy laws" for their own protection.

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