An interesting move from Google has search marketers reacting in anger, amazement and disgust. Google, after years of providing search referral information, has decided that users that are “logged-in” to Google will no longer have their search terms show up in website analytics. This move has marketers fuming, as this is an important metric to measure in terms of developing a clear understanding of the search words that people use to find the site and those that lead to conversions. many marketers evaluate those terms in order to better understand the visitor and build content and better user experiences.

However, to make this move even more odd, is that Google will make those search terms available to advertisers in their Google AdWords campaigns. This is what has marketers seething with anger. It is a clear sign from Google that those paying for advertising will be able to gain information. However, the clear sign from Google about a pay-to-play for this information also sends mixed messages about Google’s intent.

You see, the primary reason Google is making this move is – privacy. In in interview with Google’s Matt Cutts, Danny Sullivan presses Cutts about the reasoning for hiding the search terms of logged Google searchers, and Cutts keeps coming back to the issue of privacy as the driving reasons.

So the message seems to be that Google is concerned about you keeping your searches private, but they will give the information to advertisers?!?

Truly a mixed message.

Of all reasons Google could give, privacy seems the most unlikely. Privacy is one of those issues that seems to be an inconvenience for Google, so to use this excuse now as a way to “protect” their users, seems hollow.

Here is a sampling of Google’s history of privacy concerns:

  • CEO Eric Schmidt, “Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.” (What happened to ‘Do No Evil’?)
  • Google’s Street Car program collected and cataloged public Wi-Fi locations.
  • Google also recorded the addresses and unique identifiers of computers and other devices using those wireless networks and then made the data publicly available through until just a short while ago.
  • Google has admitted that employees collected personal information and data for three years across the globe while its cars traveled through neighborhood snapping pictures for its Street View program.
  • The cars also collected “information” from Wi-Fi networks from people’s homes. Information is defined as: passwords from Wi-Fi networks in every home the cars drove past.
  • Google developed the ‘Facebook Friend Exporter,” a tool to snatch Facebook friends and their personal information into the new Google+. Names, addresses and even personal phone numbers are pulled into Google+.
  • Android phones regularly connect to and disgorge a miniature data dump that includes time down to the millisecond, current and recent GPS coordinates, nearby Wi-Fi network addresses, and two 16-letter strings representing a device ID that’s unique to each phone. (CNet)

In addition to this, a more formal list of privacy issues has been developed by Privacy International. Google has the highest ranking of “Hostility” towards privacy, detailing the following reasons:

    • Vague, incomplete, and possibly deceptive privacy policy that fails to explain details.
    • Poor track record of responding to customer complaints.
    • Ambivalent attitude to privacy challenges.
    • Privacy mandate not part of the culture throughout the company.
    • New technologies are frequently rolled out without adequate public discussion of privacy issues.
    • IP addresses are not considered personal information.
    • Does not allow search history to be removed.
    • Most services do not permit user access to specific or aggregated tracking data.
    • Opt-out possible for some, but not all services.
    • Some services do not work well without cookies.
    • May access most services without an account, but creating and using an account increases privacy risks.
    • Uses Doubleclick’s advanced profiling system.

Google is also more likely to provide information to information requests from the Obama Administration than any other government: The US government asks Google for user data more than twice as often as any other, and in its own Transparency Report, Google says it complied with US requests in 94 percent of cases.

For advertising purposes, Google gathers IP addresses, dates, and time for a 9-month span for a single user in order to determine what ads to display according to location, content of e-mails, and YouTube video watching habits.

So, Google….

Can we get past this very thin excuse of “privacy” and whatever that means to the company and get to a real discussion of this move?

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From my own opinion, Google says that this “privacy” move to hide the search terms of logged in Google users will only be about 1-2% of users, which is not enough to change the data that we at SiteLogic use to determine better methods of design, persuasion and conversion.

I can’t see that number being so low, however, and that is my issue. Most Google users are not aware that they are logged in as a Google User nearly all the time. Unless they log out, they will be logged in every time they use the search box, even with search bars integrated into toolbars and browsers, searches can be performed as a logged-in user from almost anywhere.

In addition, is this simply a move to begin “locking down” the hold that Google Analytics has by preventing data from being shared to other analytics programs? This move has many industry analysts and marketers watching in curiosity – and some in anger.