Thoughts on Google-Plus Beta
I was recently invited to the Google+ Beta. Feel free to connect if you’re also on there.
Not that I need yet another social network, but as a business person who definitely realizes the value of SEO and social influence it’s impossible to ignore what one of the most powerful corporations on the web is doing.
One of the first opt-out questions (you’re automatically opted-in unless you expressly say no), is “May we use your information to customize your browsing experience and advertising on sites outside of Google?”. The next step in set up is sorting the “suggested connections”, many of which make you wonder how Google found as I hardly ever use my Gmail account, into predefined ‘Circles’ such as “Friends”, “Family”, “Acquaintances” and “Following”. You are also encouraged to define your own circles. I initially set up “NGMR members”, “NGMR Influencers” and “work friends”.
In the back of my mind I’ve always been a bit wary of allowing Facebook, and LinkedIn to know who I’m connected to. But because I had so many contacts, and I have my LinkedIn network privacy settings on high (partly to protect the privacy of my connections), I’ve felt somewhat safe in the numbers. In other words only I have known which of my contacts were friends etc.
Having worked with LinkedIn on their initiative to sell B-B sample by helping them do analysis of their network and comparing that to what marketing research companies are able to do via panels, I’m also very aware of the fantastically rich data available through a social network. Knowing who someone is connected to, and utilizing text analytics to gain additional information from other available unstructured fields allows for unheard of insights for purposes of research and targeting.
As a researcher, while I’m very excited about the types of big data analytics, as well as merging of other data including but not limited to text analytics and even survey data this network can ultimately provide, as a social media citizen it is also more and more concerning.
Tracking our behavior online as a consumer is one thing. Understanding exactly how we are connected to everyone else in life is another. I don’t believe this is something that should, will or even can be legislated against. Most of us will freely choose to volunteer this information, and even if you don’t, others will provide this information to the Google’s of the world on your behalf without you knowing it.
Once classification like this starts on a wide scale where will/can it end? It’s not hard to imagine a lot of scenarios. I’ll just mention a hypothetical one, details of which might be tweaked should it ever be realized by a company, and one that is probably more relevant in countries like the US where there is private healthcare.
Imagine an insurance company utilizing this type of data to class people into risk categories. It could be done partly based on whom is connected to whom (research shows in several regards we are very much like those we are most connected to). Someone connected to someone with depression is more likely to be depressed. Someone who has someone with diabetes in their family is also more likely to have or develop diabetes etc.
It’s not even too difficult to imagine a future version of circles which asks the user to classify their closest connections into categories of risk. Imagine the following hypothetical future insurance promotion below. [click on image to enlarge]
Sounds crazy? Not to get political, but I hope we’ll have public health insurance for all before this happens, but I’m not holding my breath
What do you think?