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Apple and Google Yield Control Over Consumer Data
Consumers can decide which ads to see and how their data is used
For the rest of the January 2016 issue of CRM magazine please click here

Apple and Google—which both bring in significant amounts of revenue from ads served to consumers along with their online and mobile content—have taken steps to give consumers more control over their digital destinies.

Apple recently allowed Been's controversial Been Choice mobile in-app ad-blocking software into its App Store.

Then Google, in early November, introduced the About Me page, which enables consumers to better control the personal information that Google shares with advertising and marketing partners.

Through the About Me page, users can change or delete personal data, photos, reviews, or other details that Google has on file. They can control which types of information Google stores about them when they surf the Web using its Chrome browser or when they search for locations using Google Maps. Users can change their privacy settings; manage access to their YouTube videos, likes, and channel subscriptions; and even manage their advertising settings. Additionally, they can list the activities that interest them so ads can be more targeted, or they can completely turn off targeted ads altogether.

While these developments put more power in consumers' hands, couldn't they also make it harder for Apple and Google to reach them? While the companies might appear to be doing something that completely opposes their revenue streams, "they are actually obtaining more data from customers in return for allowing ads," according to Natalie Petouhoff, a vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research.

Been Choice, Petouhoff says, offers consumers a choice between ad-blocking and sharing data in exchange for rewards. "Users are compensated when they agree to share their behavioral data with advertisers, publishers, and app developers," she points out.

Google's approach isn't that much different. "Google's About Me page doesn't alleviate the fact that Google has a big treasure trove of personal information, but it does allow you to take some control over how that information is shared," Petouhoff says.

But that could also backfire on Google, warns Denis Pombriant, founder and managing principal of Beagle Research.

"Google is on a slippery slope heading towards becoming a dating site where people are all younger and thinner and nicer than they really are. If you can edit your information, what's to vouch for its accuracy?" he says.

No matter their motivations, companies such as Apple and Google need to do something, if for no other reason than appearances. Consumers have clearly shown "growing disgust with invasive and disruptive online advertising," Petouhoff says.

Yet, at the same time, this is the era in which we live, she says. "We have opted to use free services in exchange for our data—in part so that companies can give us a better Web experience, but also so they can sell to us in a more targeted way. There is no such thing as a free lunch."

This leaves marketers at a difficult crossroads. "On the one hand, it's becoming increasingly difficult to get through to customers, and on the other, targeting is a real problem if the data is not accurate," Pombriant says.

He urges marketers to take a different approach and focus on moments of truth, or that moment when a customer or prospect forms an impression about a company, product, service, or experience. "Segmenting and targeting have reached their asymptomatic limits," he says. "Taking a moments-of-truth approach is far superior to segmentation and targeting for the simple reason that a person in a moment of truth, by definition, is giving off a buy signal or not. It's clear."

With segmentation, Pombriant contends, the only thing a company knows for sure is that a customer might be interested. "All the segmentation in the world isn't going to turn a non-buyer into a buyer," he states emphatically.

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