Our Laws Aren’t Equipped for Online Privacy Issues

This week’s news is packed with information about online privacy. LinkedIn is going to start tracking your interaction with LinkedIn services even if you’re not logged in, your phone’s battery status tells marketers where you are, and the FCC chair told The Washington Post that he doesn’t like where online privacy is headed.

Nothing you type, send, or share online is private. We wrote several weeks ago that Facebook admitted that programmers with access to their data warehouse could find links privately shared between members of your organization.

Advocates continue scrambling to find new ways of protecting consumer interests. But consumers are often willing to trade their information for free services. Facebook and Google, arguably North America’s two most important online consumer websites, have business models based on “consuming the consumer”.

This isn’t the first time that business model has been used. Minimalist artist Richard Serra gave an interview in the 1970s where he quoted the short film, “Television Delivers”. Serra explained that the entire television model was based on delivering consumers to advertisers. That business model thrives today online, augmented by the collection of new data and the digitization of existing data.

Everything from our cars to our televisions to our thermostats–even our medical equipment–is collected, aggregated, analyzed, and packaged for advertising. Consider that every website you visit, every video you watch, search you make, or message you type is stored in many places and eventually added to the record that becomes your digital footprint.

Check with us if you need help with your organization’s online marketing. Write me at george@silverbeaconmarketing.com for help.

Highlights from this week’s news about privacy

Back in November, we wrote about the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) going after an ambulance company for firing an employee over Facebook comments she made about the company and another employee.

Avoiding a letter from a federal agency like the NLRB is enough to justify an attorney’s expense.   I had the opportunity recently to consult with a local tech company on their employee handbook, but even a big document like that isn’t effective insulation.  The feds decided in in this instance that the company’s rules regarding all the after-hours activity like Facebook and blogging were too broad.  This was a case where the decision was justified by the company’s internal documents that the US government decided was unacceptable.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is that the company involved in this issue is not a small business, but a company with a billion in annual revenue.  The Internet and globalization is already democratizing the playing field between small and big business.   Don’t give away your advantage by not working with an attorney.  This company will keep rolling.  Yours may not faced with a similar financial settlement.

Source:  “Why You Should Consult…“, Silver Beacon Marketing, 11/4/10
Source:  “Settlement Reached…“, NLRB.gov, 2/8/11

uneven balance - search engine shareWe’ve beat the drum about a search duopoly since before the Yahoo-Microsoft search alliance was finalized. A duopoly is a market condition when there are two competitors serving many buyers.  Literalists will insist that Yahoo, Ask, AOL and meta search engines still receive a very large number of search requests. That’s true.

What you need to know as a small business leader is that comScore’s latest data shows that Google or Bing “powered” 93.8 percent of US search in December.   There is an awful lot of money to be made in the fringes that remaining 6 percent or so.

But in January 2011, make sure you understand that web search is a two player game. Yahoo! is reinventing itself into a content company as fast as it can.   AOL isn’t far behind.  And we’re not counting searches on entities like Facebook, Amazon or eBay.  One could argue that an Amazon search is in many ways a proxy for a commercial search–certainly among its core categories.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is to remember that even Google says search engine optimization (SEO) is an ongoing process and you have two different companies in which to position your company’s goods and services.   That’s the first, ultimate priority because you reach 94% of the United States that way.

Source:  “December 2010 Search Engine Rankings“, comScore, 1/14/2011

Image:  Balance by Stephen Stacey