For members of the online reputation management industry, any news involving Google is almost sure to be news worth keeping track of. The latest news from Google, however, is almost enough to make one think the search engine could use a reputation management campaign of its own! It’s rare that Google finds itself embroiled in anything even close to a scandal, but that’s more or less what’s happening to the familiar (and generally beloved) brand right now.
The scandal involves the use of Google on the iPhone. Apple’s smarthpone comes with a default setting that doesn’t allow for third-party cookies as users are implementing the Safari Web browser. Google, along with a few third-party advertisers, were found to be outfoxing this setting. But what exactly does that mean? Well, it depends who you ask.
Google says there was nothing shady or subversive about what they were doing. In fact, to hear Google tell it, they were just using standard iPhone mechanics to ensure that users could implement the +1 function while browsing via Safari. Google’s official statement says they were utilizing “known Safari functionality,” and that the cookies they enabled were not collecting personal data, just allowing users to stay signed in for +1 purposes.
Others are less charitable. A Wall Street Journal piece essentially accuses Google of sinisterly bypassing the iPhone’s built-in security features. The Daily Mail goes farther, saying Google is actually “spying” on its users. Others have expressed the need for Apple to provide its users with a more prominent “do not track” option.
Still others have rallied to defend Google. Blogger John Battelle is perhaps the most noteworthy example. He claims that it’s really Apple, not Google, that should be taken to task. Battelle claims that Apple’s privacy settings on the mobile version of Safari break with all Internet industry standards, and that they fly in the face of what an “open Internet” is supposed to be. Google is just engaging its customers the way it always does, Battelle argues.
The real problem is that most consumers really have no idea how cookies and online advertising conventions affect their privacy. Very few consumers actually change the default privacy settings on their smart devices, statistics tell us. That’s why these default settings can engender such controversy to begin with!
So who’s wrong and who’s right? Is Google violating users’ privacy rights, or is Apple breaking with industry practice? That’s a tough judgment call, but statistics reveal that the majority of Web users would probably side with Apple. 98% of Internet users say that privacy is an important issue, with more than a third of all Web users saying that privacy is the central issue when it comes to online access.
Regardless of the side you choose, it’s bad news for Google. Google’s privacy policies have been in the news a lot lately, and none of it has been good PR. Yes, even the mighty Google can make serious publicity blunders, which is a clear reminder to online reputation management professionals of just how vital the preservation of an online brand is—and just how abruptly a beloved brand can be tarnished!