Categories: Trust and reputations

19 August 2010

One comment

Musing on PR, privacy and confidence – part 1

Google’s Eric Schmidt says we should be able to reinvent our identity at will. That’s daft. But he’s got a point. Most personalities possess more than one side.

PRs are well aware of the “Streisand Effect”, coined by Techdirt’s Mike Masnick, as the exposure in public of everything you try hardest to keep private, particularly pictures. Barbra Streisand, of course, tried to put the genie back in the bottle when she took legal action to have photographs of her home removed from the internet.

For celebrities, privacy and reclusiveness used to be a potent means of attracting attention and creating mystique. But, as Andrew Keen pointed out in his muse on Jerome David (J. D.) Salinger’s death, privacy is no longer a guarantor of publicity. We live in new times.

Here’s what Eric Schmidt has been saying recently to the WSJ:

“I actually think most people don’t want Google to answer their questions,” he elaborates. “They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.

“Let’s say you’re walking down the street. Because of the info Google has collected about you, we know roughly who you are, roughly what you care about, roughly who your friends are.”

He goes on:

“I don’t believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time.”

And he’s got a point. Upcoming facial recognition software will be able to identify people just from their photographs on the internet. It is unlikely that we will ban or restrict its usage, so we shall just have to learn to live with it.

The WSJ adds that Google also knows where exactly you are located (that’s the wonder of mobile devices). Supposedly, the next generation of smart mobile devices will be able to second-guess what you want. Schmidt claims:

“The thing that makes newspapers so fundamentally fascinating—that serendipity—can be calculated now. We can actually produce it electronically.”

Schmidt is certainly correct to imply that markets were always in the anticipation business. Goods are mostly produced for people in advance of their purchase and at considerable risk that there will be no demand for them. He says of the future:

“The power of individual targeting—the technology will be so good it will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not in some sense been tailored for them.”

The logic of Schmidt’s thinking is that he can take risk out of the equation. It is as if he believes that Google can ensure that every player in the marketplace is a winner. He seems to be advocating that we can have serendipitous-seeming planned production (I’ve stretched his logic a bit to highlight the utopianism he espouses).

What Schmidt overlooks, of course, is that his world view only works in “markets” that lack competition, and which favour oligarchical monopolies. I think Schmidt faces antitrust, competitiveness and consumer backlash issues over privacy, which might yet knock his vision for six.

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One response to “Musing on PR, privacy and confidence – part 1”

  1. Heather Yaxley says:

    I get so tired of this idea that marketing has to be increasingly intrusive and “intelligent” in terms of anticipating what the consumer may want. If only marketing would actually focus on fulfilling the many needs we all openly express to companies. So few organisations are adept at following through with customers – there’d be a lot less need to read our minds if only they opened their ears.