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Friday, May 07, 2004

Blindsided Google Responds to Gmail Privacy Concerns

The login page of Gmail now sports two prominent links:

A few words about privacy and Gmail.

Read Gmail reviews and comments.

This, of course, comes as a result of Google's sluggish response to the media's overblown concerns about Gmail's supposed privacy intrusions. As you probably know, Google's upcoming webmail service pays for itself with AdSense ads that match the content of the e-mail being read by the user. The media had a heyday as they always do with privacy issues while totally missing the point, and Google didn't respond very quickly to quell privacy advocates' fears.

Perhaps only search engine marketers understand that there's nothing serious to worry about, that this contextual-ad practice is nothing new and that it's a fair trade for 1 gig of e-mail storage?

Posted by Cory | | | Permalink

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Sunday, May 02, 2004

Market Efficiency: Can Financial Markets Learn from EBay?

Fund manager (and former chairman of a division of E*TRADE) Doug Steiner, in an article in this month's ROB Magazine, recounts how he and his partner went ga-ga over EBay and Google AdWords when they looked high and low for great examples that might be used to spur reform in the financial markets.

After reviewing the sorry state of real financial markets in living up to the market ideal of transparency in pricing and non-favoritism in rules and policies, Steiner looks at EBay and AdWords, concluding that "like eBay, Google provides a venue, transparency and customer traffic. ... So, the fittest and boldest are surviving on-line by minimizing price spreads and maximizing transparency and efficiency. Why is it that financial markets are only accepting this idea under duress?"

Of course, this isn't quite true. A recent letter to the editor of Business 2.0 zeroed in on precisely this point, criticizing the pro-EBay bias in a recent Biz 2.0 article which spoke of this level playing field. The correspondent, a project manager for Sears.com, assured readers that EBay was in no way a level playing field, insofar as he had not only met with EBay's VP of Sales as well as its CEO, but also had ongoing access to tech support, sales strategy support, and a range of perks and advantages that didn't accrue to "Joe Schmoe selling his 14.4 drill." Similarly, although the rules and policies of AdWords apply equally to 99.5% of advertisers, I don't see it written down anywhere that they must apply to all advertisers. This is why Google's careful not to set too many rules that are too easy to pin down. Rather, they base everything (such as minimum clickthrough rates and pricing for AdSense) on "proprietary formulas." Part of the reason for this may be so that they can more comfortably just toss the rulebook out the window for their top twenty or so revenue generators.

But the playing field is still pretty darn level, and as a result, it's unleashing a flood of more efficient trade, be this in Royal Daulton figurines or the buying and selling of advertising. No wonder EBay + Google are worth a good $40-50 billion. If anyone's wondering what might be around the corner for companies such as these and the Internet sector in general: it's pretty easy to boil it down. Unleashing massive efficiencies in industries where massive inefficiencies still exist is something that will keep happening. Google might just pick an industry and have a go at it. As Larry Page commented in Google's recent unorthodox IPO filing: "Do not be surprised if we place smaller bets in areas that seem very speculative or even strange." Or, perhaps, bigger bets in very familiar areas like, say, the financial markets themselves(!) where the only strange thing is why some Stanford Ph.D.'s haven't taken them over yet.

Steiner concludes with:

"Next month, I'll continue with a goofy, yet all-too-true, comparison of shopping on-line for advice from psychics versus buying a standardized commodity that is traded in the billions of dollars every day: Canadian bonds. We'll see what dealers and regulators are doing--or not doing--to get you the best price."

LOL! You rock, Doug!

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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Other Free Email Services Already Do "Creepy" GMail Things, Finds Tillinghast

MarketingVOX reports that Hotmail and Yahoo Mail may already be targeting banner ads to email content. Google's popularity may make it the "target du jour," but ad targeting technology is here to stay. In the final analysis, free web-based email is a voluntary program, like Air Miles. You give something to get something. Many consumers understand that, although it's probably the case that disclosure should be better. And P.S. - no one is reading your email. Unless, of course, the government is.

Since Yahoo Mail and Hotmail users quickly forgot about security and privacy flaps that arose over the past few years, one assumes that this brouhaha will fade into the background and GMail, too, will become just a part of the furniture.

When it comes to privacy, though, opinion seems to be increasingly sharply divided. It's possible, I think, that the online privacy debate may become more heated as users discover the extent of data collection and spying that has become commonplace at firms that are considered (and consider themselves) respectable. The past few days have been a minor personal hell for me after finding myself unable to remove a certain piece of nasty "malware" and a few of its "adware friends" picked up as a result of a drive-by download (while having my personal firewall temporarily disabled). Manual registry editing didn't do the full trick, but using a handy piece of software (won't name the vendor as I don't want to seem like I'm telling this story just to endorse software), I was able to get a full list of all the questionable files on my computer and in my Windows registry. (McAfee Virus Scan had not been able to find all of these items, and wasn't successful in cleaning or quarantining some of them.) Finally, after three days of having text ad links embedded on top of articles I was reading, new browser windows opening and my keyboard locking up, and even big banners for spyware remover replacing the "real" banners on Yahoo, I got everything straightened out.

To my surprise, the anti-adware scan showed that there were far more of the nefarious files lurking on my system than just the ones I'd recently inherited. In addition to some really bad-sounding ones I didn't know I had, spyware files from Claria and data miners from Alexa were far more extensive than I would have expected, and in the Alexa case, were on my computer even though I'd long ago uninstalled the Alexa toolbar. If this took me aback -- a user who can tell the difference between many of these vendors and recognize which ones are relatively non-evil -- it's not a stretch to imagine a great many Internet users becoming more savvy about security while simultaneously having zero concern for the "rights of advertisers," and thus developing a "no-tolerance" mentality when it comes to this stuff. I suppose that will mean that advertisers will have to get used to spotty data, and online companies that rely completely on ad revenue will always be smart to diversify into fee-based revenues or transaction-based models as well.

Posted by Andrew | | | Permalink

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