November 09, 2006

User Search History Data Portability: Data Export Means Data *IMPORT*

I believe many commentators are being far too uncritical about the following statement (h/t: Michael Zimmer) of Google's CEO concerning proposed portability of user's search history data:

Making it simple for users to walk away from a Google service with which they are unhappy keeps the company honest and on its toes, and Google competitors should embrace this data portability principle, Eric Schmidt said at the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco.

"If you look at the historical large company behavior, they ultimately do things to protect their business practices or monopoly or what have you, against the choice of the users," he said. "The more we can, for example, let users move their data around, never trap the data of an end user, let them move it if they don't like us, the better."

While at face value, this is a praiseworthy statement, I am more cynical. Institutionally, Google is known for

1) A prodigious appetite for data 2) A maniacal secrecy 3) Good PR

Putting this all together, I don't think he wants to make it easy for users to move personal data away from Google. I think he wants to make it easy for users to move personal data away from Microsoft and Yahoo to Google. I suspect this is in fact an attack aimed at Microsoft, where he's going to wave the banner of "portability" against possible Microsoft operating system lock-in tactics.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But it's about Microsoft and what Google perceives as competitive advantage, not about "the choice of the users".

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on November 09, 2006 02:30 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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Can't it be BOTH a jab at microsoft and a strategic corporate move AND what users really want?

I don't see this as an "either/or" situation here. You CAN please your users AND provide a very competitive and harsh environment for the competition to exist in.

That's called "creating an authentically great product" and I think it's one reason Google has made it this far.

Sure, it's a kind of jab at the competition. But because it's a genuinely Good Move that is aligned with what people really want, it'll be especially fatal (potentially) because it's not just some empty corporate maneuver or competitive feature-creep that ends up annoying the end user.

Posted by: Emily Nashif at November 10, 2006 11:20 PM

Interesting post! Data portability seems like a good idea that could represent an answer to some privacy concerns, provided that the Internet companies will agree to delete personal data after it's moved elsewhere. That agreement shouldn't be taken for granted, however. At this point in time the Internet companies are not willing to provide details about their data retention policies or to say whether deleted data is actually gone for good. In some cases, such as personalized search results, an individual can only delete his or her access to his or her searches. A master copy continues to reside with the search engine. A recent attempt to get clarity from Internet companies about their data retention policies can be found here:

Posted by: Elise Ackerman at November 13, 2006 10:05 PM