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Google + or Minus: Do Privacy Features Mean You’re Safer?

Google + represents a big leap forward in the settings and control users have over their content, their profiles, and other aspects which seem quite important to their privacy and safety online. But do they really matter?

Probably not.

The biggest obstacle to people’s security online really isn’t the capability of the technology that they’re using. Its what they do and say on their own- user error. Many people fall into the trap of social networks, believing that they can add friends to different groups or circles based on a thin connection from the past. In truth, they don’t really know anything about that individual, and in some instances they don’t even know them at all. In fact, the US military tried to play on this in an espionage effort a while ago- generating automated profiles on Facebook so they could monitor specific individuals. They essentially created a profile to spy on a specific private individual. Neat, huh?

IF you really want to be secure online, don’t post things that you wouldn’t want a whole world of people knowing. Most people on social networks tell other users where they live, where they’re going, what they’re doing there, and when they’re going to be back. Its provided sufficient ammo for enterprising thieves to get in and get out, before you’re vacation is over. Things like birthdays and anniversaries are also frequently used for passwords and also frequently publicized to a wide variety of other groups on social networks. Allowing that data to be publicly available is just inviting risk, and there is almost no way to participate on social networks without letting something of that nature slip.

A ninja waiting to get into your house based on Google + info
Uh oh!

And, as the recent reign of terror brought on by LulzSec pointed out, often your information is never really secure! The worse offenders are the companies who are constantly monitoring, aggregating, and storing your information online. Think about how much information Google has on you after years of storing email, using its applications, and visiting its search. I can guarantee you, some of their data tracking has picked up what banking institution you use, perhaps some of your vital statistics, credit card numbers, etc. They say its all anonymous and secure, but the fact of the matter is that it really isn’t.

As long as you’re online, you have to understand that you’re being tracked and monitored (which isn’t healthy for conspiracy theorists). Google + is publicly a social network. Privately, its just a chance for Google to capture more data on the users of the web to better sell advertising (and plot a world dictatorship?). All these wonderful services and great methods of communication that we’re provided online, are all there to devour your information. If that doesn’t make you feel insecure, you’re ignorant.

Does that mean that we should disconnect and move into the woods? Only if you’re out of your meds and your psychologist isn’t answering. But above all, be careful, and operate under the assumption that no amount of privacy features, terms of use, or careful watching is going to prevent your life from being perfectly available to a huge number of people, companies, etc.

Sleep well!

Google + or Minus?

Google Plus (+) is getting lots of publicity.

It is Google’s biggest, and most viable, challenge to Facebook after repeated flops and missteps into social networking.

What is it? Its essentially Facebook, integrated into the myriad of Google products, applications, and functions. Is it a big leap forward from Facebook? No. Is it going to revolutionize the way that we engage on another on social networks? Probably not.

The social circles feature is really the most important feature offered by Google in its development, allowing a more segmented breakdown of content reception and distribution, so you can ensure that you’re seeing what you want to see, and sharing what you want to share, with your friends, coworkers, family, etc.

This doesn’t really seem like that big of a jump forward however in social network development. People (lay people even) have been complaining about Facebook’s lack of this feature since its inception. The fact that Google was the first one to really build it out points to a more glaring flaw in the design of Facebook then to any sort of real innovation by Google.

What is strange about Google + is the surprising lack of ads. There are a full two, very tiny ones, to the right of the screen encouraging me to get Google + for my mobile device or to invite others to use it.

Will that change? Google is an ad whore so I can’t imagine that they’re long term plan is to subsist without extensive ad incorporation throughout Plus. IF they do, I think it will demonstrate a greater desperation on Google’s part to leap in front of the freight train that is Facebook. We all know that Google has been deathly afraid of Facebook for the last five years and has very much wanted to capture its user base to no avail.

By circumventing Facebook with a rather extensive (and expensive) development, a significant push to get publicity and new users, but not effectively monetizing it, Google is saying one of two things:
1. We make enough money elsewhere and Google + will act as a gateway drug to our other products that are revenue generators.
2. Facebook is taking enough money from us on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis that there is $X.XX in trying to strangle them out. Avoiding a loss could be considered a + (even if it does cost some money to build up front).

The question then becomes, how will Google + affect the social networking landscape. I think we’ve already seen that people really have limited interest in duplicating the same efforts in two locations- look at MySpace and its woeful demise. MySpace did some things much better then Facebook, and offered quite a bit more functionality in some regards to its users. But Facebook trended better and now we have no more MySpace.

So what happens to Facebook now? Google is estimated to have already hit the 10 million user mark and is rapidly climbing. The extensions that allow you to share your Google + updates to Facebook will allow users to localize their efforts on one network and vicariously share to another. Of course, this also means that the secondary social network doesn’t get the impressions, visitors, or the ad revenue that they used to. Facebook needs to retain buzz and momentum, and needs to get Google to become the wannabe. I guarantee you that almost everything Google does, Facebook is going to try and counter by incorporating into their offerings. They’ll also need to innovate substantially to prove that Google has a lot to learn yet about social networking. If they can’t do those things, without coming across as a ‘me too’, they’ll flatline. Based on MySpace’s demise, they could do it rather quickly too.

And what about Google itself? Plus isn’t the revenue generator yet. They still are search ad dependent for most of their income and earnings. They have a great suite of widely adopted features and a huge segment of the mobile phone market (to all you Apple fanboy’s, you are little better then RIM at this point). But they’re putting a lot of dependency on their social network, quite publicly (the talks about bonuses being based on Plus performance, etc). If they fail at this, we might see a gradual decline of one of the internet’s founding fathers. I know that they didn’t actually found the internet, but without Google, we may not see it as widely adopted as it is today. Like Microsoft before them, Google could remain a household name, but a consistent shadow of its former glory. Google has to knock off Facebook or at least significantly divide the social networking sphere. If it can’t do that, how users search, come to businesses, generate ad revenue, could all become something different.

Bear in mind that change is good, only if you’re not the one who benefits from the status quo.

Rest assured, that our web design and marketing teams in Seattle and in Los Angeles are carefully watching our related industries to best discern how things will pan out and how they will affect how you do business.

Facebook Integrates Spotify

Wow, no matter how much I talk about these things, I never can quite keep up.

Innovation? Nope. Creativity? Nope. Big companies swallowing smaller companies’ products to emulate other big companies? Check.

Facebook will be integrating Spotify into its user profiles, allowing for individuals to stream music through their Facebook account, share that music with friends remotely, and otherwise copy a billion other services that are out already. So why would Facebook bother? Facebook wants to be MySpace! Okay, so maybe Facebook wants to do what MySpace does, but without getting knocked out by an up and comer. So whats the best way to do that?

Drag your feet!

Rather than trying to be the first guy to the innovation, just wait until someone else discovers somethings useful, buy them, sue them, or coerce them into choosing between you and another competitor. Perfectly sound business strategy.

We’re essentially seeing the lock down of the internet, folks. One company swallows another one, or puts them under contract for their core product, thus officially removing them from the playing field. For the small tech company founders, like those at Spotify, undoubtedly the Facebook deal sounds like a godsend. They’re getting access to one of the most internet addicted user bases on earth! That’s gotta be good right? Sure, but its also bad. Whereas Spotify used to be a stand alone product and company, they are now forever tied to the Facebook product, regardless of how independent their contract might make them seem to be. Not a brilliant move if they really wanted to continue to be the innovator in their field. Facebook has continuously demonstrated that they aren’t interested in letting their little zuckling companies that they pick up do their own thing. A year from now, Spotify will be gone altogether, or the staff will be transported to Palo Alto where Zuck can keep a closer eye on them.

And besides, who wants to be associated with the leadership team at Facebook? How many lawsuits have they had brought against them for violations of share trading, concept theft, copyright violation, and more? Why put your company in bed with that? Did Facebook promise to run a smear campaign on your competitor?

I don’t know. I’m sure there is a lot of money in this deal which is always a good reason to do anything, right? Or is that prostitution. Oh well.

Facebook users, congratulations, you’re now back at MySpace!

Facebook is Dumb Too

I received a bit of feedback from some people suggesting that I might be coming across as biased against Google. Do they disappoint me on a regular basis with poor business decisions, poor development direction, and poor dedication to their core product? Absolutely. Could that change? Also, absolutely.

So to provide a bit of balance to my discourse on Google, I offer you, ‘Facebook is Dumb Too’.

Facebook has always been a blundering buffoon, just now, they happen to be a very rich and powerful blundering buffoon. They have a massive user base, tons of money, and a lot of very powerful investors. But somehow they keep making some very strange decisions.

I think a lot of this goes back to the personality of the man at the top. Zuckerberg’s history as the leader of the company is tainted with lots of stories, accusations, and lawsuits. The image that presents is of someone who is careless, self-centered, and operating under the belief that nothing that they do wrong sticks.

The recent smear campaign effort with Google is just another feather in that cap.

The campaign shows a blatant disregard for business ethics, public relations strategies, and tech methodologies.

First and foremost, why try the back door approach to smearing Google. Everyone knows that you two don’t get along. I’ve been publishing it in my Google vs. Facebook posts for a while, and a lot of other people are too. There is no surprise to the fact that you want their business and they want yours. There wasn’t any need for you to target them with a back stabbing maneuver. You could have publicly stated that your privacy policy was better than Google’s and you were more concerned about user privacy than they were. Release a new user friendly privacy policy in coordination and openly throw down the gauntlet.

Secondly, when has a public relations campaign ever been quiet? Public relations firms are notorious for being loud, unsubtle, and delivering messages that are tainted by money and contracts. No one buys what a public relations firm says these days. We know that they are just payees from their backers and whatever they say is supposed to be a measured, sales pitch that we should eat up. But since we know what they are and what they are up to, why would we bother listening. When you send a PR firm to smear a company, of course the real journalists (who didn’t work for the newspapers or publications) asked the question, ‘Who do you work for’. From there, you were screwed, Facebook.

Lastly is the ignorance of tech methodologies. There are already a lot of articles discussing Google’s poor privacy policy. You didn’t need to invent new ones. Just focus publication and promotion on the ones that exist. Use SEO and reputation management to help drive the push and attention to those articles. You do no need to be loud and elephant like when you enter the room or try and do something like this. SEO would have been quieter and would have allowed you to push those articles that were really, truly, written by a neutral journalist, up rankings. A little dirty at best, but a lot better than your haphazard previous effort.

There, I’ve said it. Facebook is dumb too.

Why Reputation Management is better than PR


Now that we have our maniacal laughter out of the way, let’s issue our shames.

Facebook, led by fearless innovator and concept borrower Mark Zuckerberg, recently got caught with their pants down as they attempted to smear Google’s privacy policies relating to its social networking efforts. Facebook, in its infinite wisdom and complete ignorance of web strategies, hired a traditional PR firm to try to promote negative articles to major news publications. Of course, because traditional PR firms are notoriously bad for doing anything with subtlety and generating anything more than negative press, this back fired in a big way.

How? Why?

The how was simple. The PR firm openly approached a number of tech journalists and bloggers, trying to encourage them to write negative articles about Google’s various social networking and social media products. Tech journalists and bloggers, in general, are a notoriously independent bunch and this push predictably resulted in a rejection of the article concepts, and generated the inquiries into who was backing the PR firm. At first the speculation blamed Apple or Microsoft (two of Google’s other big competitors), but once the digital detectives were on the case, it soon came to light that Facebook was actually the one behind the smear campaign.

The why, I cannot grasp or define. Public relations firms are notorious for lacking discretion, finesse, and the ability to do anything with subtlety. Their title is ‘public’ and all too often their efforts are over publicized and over promoted. Any journalist or blogger worth their merit was going to have their hackles raised the moment a big, exclusive, and expensive PR firm came rolling up to them and attempted to push a very specific and very exaggerated article. And what are journalists and bloggers supposed to do? Investigate! The moment that the bloggers knew there was a PR firm behind the action, they knew they had a great big, smelly story to be able to share with the world. And of course, inevitably the strings controlling the puppet went right back to Facebook headquarters.

Facebook really, really, really showed that they are still a very immature minded and a little power drunk to think that they could pull this off.

Let’s address the traditional public relations firm concept and successes: Their role is to improve, influence, or change publicity relating to a particular brand, company, individual, product, or concept. Their methodologies are very public. They use advertising, strategic partnerships, marketing, and promotional efforts to accomplish their end goals. This works when you’re selling a product or when you’re trying to get something talked about. Inevitably, people question PR firms motives, honesty, and sincerity because they know that they’re being paid to say what they say. They can forgive that as part of the natural cycle of business when you’re trying to help your own business succeed.

However, the public likes nothing less than seeing a company attempt to ‘exaggerate’ or ‘falsify’ claims and then promote them as factual, honest, and newsworthy. When you hire a public relations firm to do the work, you draw even more attention to the fact that you don’t want to be associated with the smear campaign your attempting to generate. Which means that you’re the one who appears dirty! Which of course, is exactly what happened here.

If Facebook had wanted to go on a drinking binge, a drugged out rampage, or settled down with two ‘porn goddesses’, a public relations firm (namely the one working for Mr. Sheen) may have been a wise decision. But since that wasn’t Mark Zuckerberg’s intention, he probably should have looked elsewhere to achieve his end game.

Facebook caught leaving a flaming bag of poo on Google's doorstep
Its only funny in high school, and if you don’t get caught.

Namely, a reputation management firm, like ours.

Why would a reputation management firm have been a better selection? Because we’re discreet, and we don’t need to generate publicity by talking loudly or name dropping or trying to shadily bribe journalists.

A high quality reputation management firm would have been just as able to promote some of the millions of existing news stories about Google’s poor record on privacy with a much greater level of success and a much higher level of discretion. We already know how incestuous and theft oriented major news outlets are these days. If they see a news story trending or seeming to organically rise, they are quite happy to spawn a million spin off stories, plagiarism copies, etc. Look at Huffington Post? They haven’t written high quality, original content since the day they were conceived, but they still are one of the most ‘valuable’ news outlets of our time simply because they copy so well.

Reputation management and SEO are a fantastic tool for the modern company. Facebook should not have been so blind to leveraging web technology in its favor or towards this end means.

A quick blurb: I’m not particularly a fan of either Facebook or Google’s methodologies. Both have extraordinary violations of privacy (almost as much as a TSA pat down) and both of their leadership teams seem to always be involved in something of questionable moral character. I also think that both of them are poorly guiding their overall business growth by ignoring their core product while borrowing/stealing/recreating other industry successes. I just think this move by Facebook was ignorant of the technology of the web, and its very own lifeblood. So doubly stupid.

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