Should we be worried about Google? Ten years after the search engine was launched by two Stanford University graduate students, Google has become an empowering force and a adopted behavior that has transformed the way we access news and information, shop for goods and services and–increasingly–how we engage in politics. Who would have imagined four years ago, that Google and its subsidiary YouTube would co-sponsor debates in which ordinary citizens could directly engage with presidential candidates?
Last week, Google’s stock hit an all-time high, on the strength of reports that the company will earn more this year than the $10.6 billion it earned in 2006. But while Google has almost overnight become a trusted source of information for the technologically attuned, few have thought to question the extent to which its success poses threats to both our privacy and our aspirations for the positive potential of the Internet.
Google’s dramatic growth is a reflection of its role as the most powerful player in the world of interactive marketing. Ninety-nine percent of Google’s annual revenues (according to its 10K filing with the SEC) comes from selling targeted advertising on its search engine, which is driven by a massive consumer data collection system.
Google is far more than the digital incarnation of Madison Avenue in the twenty-first century. It is the engine driving us into a new communications era, in which interactive marketing will significantly shape our lives. The company is aggressively expanding its advertising role, building out a sales team poised to partner with the biggest brand advertisers on the planet. Google is pitching its souped-up interactive advertising system to global corporations so they can better blend marketing messaged into the news, information and entertainment we consume.
Google’s message to Madison Avenue, as expressed at the OMMA Expo in New York this week is that its technology can leverage tremendous insights about global consumers of products and information, and can deliver the right interactive marketing messages to consumers at precisely the right moment. Ellen Naughton, Google’s director of media platforms, urged advertisers to “fish where the fish are,” a reference to the millions of viewers of online video, including YouTube. Naughton was particularly proud of “Green Tea Partay,” a Google-sold video ad that has drawn more than 3 million viewers to date on YouTube. It’s a cheeky video, in which Smirnoff Vodka marketing messages are subtly integrated into the insistent beat of an preppy California hip-hop routine. Take a look:
As Wall Street celebrates Google’s success as a marketing platform, the company’s plans to extend its business and power are cause for concern, according to a handful of privacy and consumer groups in the US and the European Union, and elsewhere. Google has engaged in a rapid series of acquisitions, giving it control over YouTube (the world’s most powerful online video service); Feedburner (which distributes content and ads to more than a half-million blogs and other news feed sites); and it is in the process of acquiring the online data collection behemoth DoubleClick. Much about Google’s corporate goals can be gleaned from the $3.1 billion it is willing to pay to control DoubleClick.