Google Whores Out Users With False Privacy Claims

Oct 18th
posted in

So today Google announced that they have turned on SSL by default for logged in users, a feature that has been available for a while on encrypted.google.com. The way they set it up, as explained in this post, means that your search query will not be forwarded to the website you're visiting and that they can only see that you've come from an organic Google result. If you're buying AdWords however, you still get the query data.

This is what I call hypocrisy at work. Google cares about your privacy, unless they make money on you, then they don't. The fact is that due to this change, AdWords gets favored over organic results. Once again, Google gets to claim that it cares about your privacy and pulls a major public "stunt". The issue is, they don't care about your privacy enough to not give that data to their advertisers.

That might also enlighten you to the real issue: Google still has all your search data. It's just not allowing website owners to see it anymore. It's giving website owners aggregated data through Google Webmaster Tools, which would be nice if it hadn't shown to be so incredibly useless and inaccurate.

If Google really cared about your privacy, (delayed) retargeting wouldn't be available for advertisers. They wouldn't use your query data to serve you AdSense ads on pages, but I doubt they'll stop doing that, if they did they would have probably said so and made a big fuzz out of it.

If Google really cared, the keyword data that site owners now no longer receive from organic queries would no longer be available for advertisers either. But that would hit their bottom line, because it makes it harder to show ROI from AdWords, so they won't do that.

The Real Reason for killing organic referral data

So I think "privacy" is just a mere pretext. A "convenient" side effect that's used for PR. The real reason that Google might have decided to stop sending referral data is different. I think it is that its competitors in the online advertising space like Chitika and Chango are using search referral data to refine their (retargeted) ads and they're getting some astonishing results. In some ways, you could therefor describe this as mostly an anti-competitive move.

In my eyes, there's only one way out. We've now determined that your search data is private information. If Google truly believes that, it will stop sharing it with everyone, including their advertisers. Not sharing vital data like that with third parties but using it solely for your own profit is evil and anti-competitive. In a country such as the Netherlands where I live, where Google has a 99%+ market share, in other words: a monopoly, I'm hoping that'll result in a bit of action from the European Union.

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Joost is a freelance SEO consultant and WordPress developer. He blogs on yoast.com about both topics and maintains some of the most popular WordPress plugins for SEO and Google Analytics in existence.

Published: October 18, 2011

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Comments

October 18, 2011 - 8:12pm

Though this change is ridiculous for a few reasons, I do want to clarify what they mean about protecting us users. This whole SSL change is to prevent our cookie info from being exposed in non-secure Wifi connections, not necessarily protecting my search data. The Google blog did a better job of mentioning that. The GA blog... not so much. Overall, I am okay that they are attempting to protect users visiting non-secure pages in non-secure networks with their cookies out in the open... even if they should know better.

My main problem is that OF COURSE they have a mechanism in place to make sure AdWords data is still being collected for advertisers, but NOOO, we can't ensure the same for organic keywords being reported in GA. It's not rolled out yet their method of even capturing Google as a referring host is something I want to analyze to determine if Google still could have included the query somehow (but then decide not to).

October 19, 2011 - 9:23am

I do often love my Google shares, but I'm starting to hate their arrogance. While openness has never been something Google was known for, this is a step I thought they would never take (although they tried something similar many years ago).
Originally Webmaster Tools showed real query impressions, but those times are long gone. The rough estimates they currently show are often totally off. Now Google starts to determine when to show you what keyword was used. Next step they only share it selectively through webmaster tools or GA and soon after Google is a black box.

Any action webmasters could take collaboratively? (besides robots.txt disalow)

October 19, 2011 - 10:03am

Very funny! They are concerned about the privacy only when they believe this will hurt their business.

Also, it would be nice if someone can explain for which reason not all the URL are masked passing through their new URL redirection system.

Have a look
http://screencast.com/t/896gC03vZ2

October 19, 2011 - 2:14pm

If I am understanding this correctly, this would render a big part of Google Analytics useless, at least in regard to keyword research.

October 19, 2011 - 3:28pm

Does this mean Google Analytics is now useless? If so, I'll be glad to toss it off my website. It will speed up my site and improve "user experience."

October 19, 2011 - 5:58pm

I wonder how many clients using GA started using it because their marketing person (SEO or marketing department staff) wanted it, in order to see referring keywords and indirectly, content performance?

I wonder how many Google customers know about Google Plus because their marketing person (SEO or other) told them about it, and hinted at the potential value engagement had on the company's brand and marketing efforts?

I wonder how many businesses and business-associated individuals consider Google super important to their business because marketing people (SEO or otherwise) have stressed the importance of ranking in Google, targeting the right keywords, appearing in keyword spaces, etc.. all verified by monitoring referrer data passed by Google?

I don't wonder how powerful F.U.D. is.. or how influential an expert SEO's opinion can be on business managers. When they are warned about surfing Google while logged in, using Chrome as their browser, the risks of switching IT to Chromebooks, or moving onto the cloud with Google Docs or Google email. Business managers manage risk on a daily basis; it's what they do. Google's past success was based largely on willing adoption of Google's offering by hopeful clients, and the apparent low risk of "going with Google". Perhaps not so anymore.

We search professionals tend to over estimate the importance of Google, because that over estimation doesn't hurt us, and can directly help in our marketing businesses. For years we advocated for Google in the eyes of users and Google's service customers, because it helped on all fronts.

Google underestimates our influence, and continues to take away from marketers the benefits that led to advocating for the increased use of Google and Google's services.

I'm not pointing at a switch to SSL or an effort to increase security in the face of competitive challenges (which I believe this is). I'm talking about expressed arrogance and disregard for search professionals and their enlightened customers. Google switched on this change with NO NOTICE. One day, it is the way it is, and no longer the way it was.

I'm highlighting the lack of influence Matt Cutts and the SEO-aware Googlers have these days, due to that arrogance and lack of respect for the search industry outside of Google and search advertising. In the past, a technical or business effort that impacted search like this does would have been countered with debate about trying to address concerns, or at least manage the impact. Today, Google just does it and Matt Cutts hits the media trying to say how good it is for users, how small the impact really will be, etc.

At today's Google money plans the trip and arrogance drives the bus.

October 20, 2011 - 1:03am

What a disregard to web developers the world over. So many scripts are now useless (roll-your-own scripts that capture referring data). Google can only be SO arrogant without a severe backlash against it. I know why Google are doing this - they will push people to be signed-in ("it's safer for you!), just so they can then push Google services like Google+ onto people (as you're logged in).

We should boycott Google for a day. A concerted effort where we decide for one day, we don't use their search engine. With enough publicity, I hope they would see a dip in their revenue and start to wonder - wow, people really do have power, and we are vulnerable to their decisions.

October 20, 2011 - 7:50am

IMO google has made a very devious move here. Joost is right, we are being whored out - and we're no longer getting any enjoyment out of being f'd.

I hope that there is considerable backlash in the web community because this is disgraceful!

October 20, 2011 - 2:29pm

I know my heading is a bit over ambitious but to be honest, I think a lot of search marketers have had just about enough. If you push people far enough then as soon as something more viable comes along, there will be a massive 'jump ship'.

To me this is a clear example of Google could not care less about anyone except themselves. Except this time they have gone one step too far. They are cutting out the major part of their market that their customers, i.e. the advertisers, rely on for advice they can understand. No one but people from Google actually understand how to do anything on Google. So people come to marketers to either do it for them, or make it easy for them to understand.

Also, if they cut off search results for organic results, then the only option for small business people is advertising. Google thinks this is good because it will force them to use Adwords or Adwords Express. I'm sorry but it won't. It doesn't matter how many people tweak, change or update the system, if it's not understandable then you have to rely on third parties to 'translate' it all.

I think Google is pushing the entire micro and small business market out of their reach. People won't pay because they can't pay or hasn't Google realised there is a Global recession going on. Sure small business could rely on on Google places but there are only 7 of those on page 1. It's only good for actual local businesses. People trying to operate national or globally will turn to other avenues as soon as they become available.

October 20, 2011 - 7:36pm

Speaking about the anti-competitive idea, don't forget about that also Google still has the data to run THEIR ads. Maybe crux will come down to ownership of referrer header information as mentinoed in the SearchEngineWatch article about same issue when they said:

"Google is saying that they own all the referrer header information they send to other websites."

Maybe somebody can go about to challenge the idea?

October 21, 2011 - 6:39pm

@pvdgraaf. We could start investing a little more time in SEO for bing, use one of the many other advertiser/publisher programs instead of Adwords/Adsense, and just not use chrome.

October 24, 2011 - 11:09am

How can Google be so cynical! It's beyond believe, this move could mean slow death of SEO and, as you'mentioned on your article it's anti-competitive.

Privacy is surely the last things they have in their minds.

October 26, 2011 - 11:29am

What this means is that Google Analytics, like Google Reader and its other products, are being rolled into Google+. This all makes sense now. This move is extremely anti-competitive. I've moved over to BING as I explained in my post at (www.techanarchy.com). Google removing RSS capabilities just as Twitter did was the reason for me to go ballistic.

October 28, 2011 - 9:09pm

There is one other competitor Google obviously hits with this update: SEOs. Whoops... we just made 10% of your work results no longer provable. Universal search results, personalization and this latest move are all items in an ongoing effort to cut the ROI on SEO.

October 29, 2011 - 1:12am

...they will give you some baseline, but if you want full and accurate data from them they expect you to pay to play.

October 29, 2011 - 1:41pm

It would seem to be in Google's interests to give transparent feedback to webmasters on what search terms led a visitor from a Google ranked page. This makes Google more useful to searchers and searched.

The biggest challenge to Google+ adoption is the humble login (http://www.davidnrothwell.com/google-plus-google-google-and-social-whats...)

Now, with this step to withhold search query data from logged in users, they are penalizing webmasters which seems a bizarre contradiction with their aspiring social platform.

In a perfect world for Google+, *every* Google Search user would be logged in to their G+ account - rendering *no* search query data availability for webmasters.

Or did I miss something??

October 30, 2011 - 12:35am

...they initially only turned unpaid search referrals off in 1 country so that they could say it was a small % of users impacted. It was their strategy to minimize blowback & act like the change was no big deal. Step 2 will be enabling it in other countries (in part with the justification of "this is normal and we have been doing this in the United States for a long time" as well as "we care about user privacy"). Step 3 will be when the feature is enabled on all users. If step 3 comes to be, then the current Google insiders who are well aware of that road map but still said "well its only a few %" recently should be permanently branded as shills and liars.

April 18, 2012 - 4:35am

...till there's a serious google competitor. probably a non-public copmany, and one run by webmasters. Webmasterworld should get everybody on some communal engine, then get all our sites to promote it with a simple ad. I'd do it. Google would hate it. Webmasters would kill it with something like this.

September 27, 2013 - 8:11am

Why use analytics?, use piwik instead. Google can use any account you have with them against you, and your business. Why being open with them if they are so perverse. When you use analytics you give very important data to google, for free.

September 27, 2013 - 3:42pm

...there are data features available within the Google ecosystem that are not available outside of it.

I wouldn't suggest registering is right for every site, but if a site is already registered on some fronts (eg: uses AdWords or AdSense or any other Google service) then it might not add much (any?) risk to have it in analytics too.

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