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Google removes marketers' access to valuable data, but, maybe, doesn't protect privacy. Have they lost their mind? (BREAKING)

Ugh. Google announced today that they’re going to make search data more secure by hiding search query and referrer data. Except for when they don’t.


It seems Google is going to hide the query and the referrer on searches for anyone logged into Google. While this will only affect, according to Google’s Matt Cutts, “single-digit” numbers of searchers, anything that makes it harder for marketers and e-commerce types to segment their customers, well, sucks.

Now this wouldn’t be so bad if it applied to all logged-in customers for all types of searches. At least then Google could fully claim they’re protecting privacy. But, Google isn’t doing that. The data from paid clicks (i.e., the type Google makes money from), continues getting passed to your analytics tool. Not sure how that’s protecting privacy. Google’s got enough trouble with potential regulators right now. I’m not sure this approach helps them there.

And, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with Google protecting users’ privacy. I have argued repeatedly that protecting privacy is in marketers’ long-term best interest. I’m just not sure this accomplishes much in that regard.

Google’s announcement came earlier today, so many details are still up in the air. But the best analysis so far comes from Danny Sullivan:

“Not only does the policy discriminate against the SEO side of the search marketing family, it also sends a terrible signal to consumers. It says that referrer data is important enough to protect — but not important enough when advertiser interests are at stake.

To be fair, Google is concerned that people are more likely to do sensitive searches that somehow reveal private information in referrer data through clicks on its free listings. But this could still happen in relation to ads, as well.

I appreciate that Google’s trying to get the balance right, something Cutts said to me repeatedly, as well as all this being a a first step that will likely evolve. I also appreciate what he said about even this already improving things: “What you’re getting today is better than what you were getting yesterday.”

But still, it would seem better if all referrers were blocked. As a marketer, I hate saying that. But as a consumer, it does provide more protection. And for Google, blocking them all doesn’t create this mixed message that might backfire on them with privacy advocates.”

Admittedly, his analysis and mine align pretty heavily. But stay tuned for more. I’m sure we’ll hear a lot about this in the coming days.

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Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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