Digital Deception: Google vs. Apple

Well, they’ve done it again.

After writing my editorial earlier this week about Google’s shortcomings with regard their mobile walletAndroid Market security, and recent  privacy policy changes; I was dismayed Friday to learn even more allegations of Google misdeeds have been reported.

Google is now in hot water with consumers and the federal government because they are alleged to have violated consumer privacy by purposely overriding default cookie settings in Apple’s Safari browser so they could track users for advertising purposes.

One of the reasons Safari is more secure than other browsers is that by default it denies access to third-party cookies. What Google found, according to a Wall Street Journal investigation, was a hole a in the browser’s security settings that would allow their advertising cookies inside.

The WSJ reports that three members of Congress have called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the matter, alleging that Google may have violated a privacy settlement they signed with the Federal Trade Commission last year. Violating that settlement could result in fines of up to $16,000 per violation per day.

I can certainly understand understand why Google would be tempted to do such a thing. But what I can’t understand  is why they didn’t come up with a way to help their advertisers meet their goals  some other way.

The fact that a whole realm of Apple consumer devices that use the Safari browser–laptops, desktops, iPhones, iPads–is off-limits for consumer tracking is definitely a legitimate concern  for advertisers who need and want to get their message out to the widest possible audience. But consumers should have a say so as to what online behavior they want tracked.

If advertisers and Google don’t like that, they can come up with creative ways to convince people to opt-in for ads. That can be challenging, but it’s certainly not impossible.

For example, Google could  set themselves up as an  in-house agency, and negotiate a deals for advertisers so they could extend their Google ad campaigns to  include Apple customer e-mails,  promotions in the Apple App Store, and special online promotions on other sites that would entice Apple users to either opt in for advertising while registering to win a prize.

They could also  enable their customers to do do mobile advertising like a “text-to-win” campaign targeted specifically at iPhone uses. Such a campaign could be be promoted by ads on the web, as well as by broadcast ads on radio and television.

Because Google and Apple are head-to-head rivals in the mobile phone market; I’m sure they’d be loathe to share any advertising dollars. It’s a lot easier to cheat. I get that. But they don’t have to do that, in order to make a profit.

Even rivals can make mutually beneficial deals. If Google and Apple can’t do that; then Google needs to find other creative ways to make money and help their advertisers at the same time.

Sure, creating those kinds of promotions and doing those kinds of deals would be  time-consuming, complicated, expensive.  Anytime you involve media organizations other than your own in an ad campaign, you face the risk of not being able to negotiate a deal that would be profitable for both parties.

But with Google’s deep pockets and wide reach, there is no reason why they couldn’t  partner with other media outlets so they could do the work they need to do without  resorting to underhanded and possibly illegal activities.

I think the time is coming when consumers will realize they’re just kewpie dolls in the great shooting gallery of commercial exploitation. They’re going to get tired of it, and they’re going to demand action from the federal government. In fact, they’re already doing it.

You know what you get when consumers demand action from the federal government? You get more regulation, less freedom, and a lot of justification for the government to clamp down in other areas on the web.

So go ahead Google–keep exploiting consumers. You’re just paving the way for regulation that is going to strangle not only your ability to make the bucket loads of cash you are raking in right now; but also the freedom that we all rely on to use the web to conduct business, communicate with our friends, and find the information we need every day.

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