Google announced today that they are going to make some modifications to the way they pass data along to other websites based on if a users is logged into google or not. The full details on this are at: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/10/making-search-more-secure.html.
This has gotten a number of folks in the SEO industry in an uproar. While I do not think it’s the end of the world the way in which Google went about doing this was very…. Google. They just did it.
They also opted to still allow anyone running paid search campaigns access to the data, which is sort of like talking out of both sides of their mouth. They say you will still have access to data in Google webmaster tools, but this data is not linked to content or pathing information on your site, and it doesn’t tie into analytic packages that allow you track KPIs (except for Google Analytics). In some ways this reminds me very much of the stink about Internet Explorer being pre-installed on all Window machines, and the how they used their size as a monopoly to crush Netscape. In this case Google is allowing data that they once shared for competitors (Ominture, Unica, etc.) to use, to be turned off… except for Google products. Google will provide this information to users of webmaster tools, and AdWords, and interestingly enough AdWords is the major source of revenue for Google.
If Google really wanted to respect your privacy they would have shut down tracking on Ads which is much more intrusive than on organic search. Given that Google reaches about 93% of Internet users for advertising, they have a very strong stance in this market. They can also likely afford to give up some revenue to protect users privacy. They develop technology that is designed to exploit information users provide to provide relevant content, and now they seem to be reeling this in for other companies to leverage.
This problem Google claims is small, but if you think about the push they make for Google+ they are working to get more users who use their services and once you login you don’t typically log out. Over time if they grow into the social space more this data will erode away until only a few users pass along any data for 3rd parties and sites to use.
Google should have a compromise, much like they have for personalized search where I can opt out of having my searches tracked, why not provide the option to users to opt-out of passing along their data to third parties and first parties such as Google. Basically if I opt out I opt out of ANYONE using my data in any way.
At the end of the day Google will do what Google will do, but as a good corporate citizen I do believe over the next few weeks there will be more from Google on this given the voice of the community and the reaction to this.