Google CEO Eric Schmidt is out making the media rounds in support of the Android launch, and during a Fox Business interview he touched on the issue of data privacy and control. It got me thinking that the subject was the real reason he's out and about.The entire Internet ad model rests on a simple proposition: consumers want to be told what to do. OK, companies like Google don't actually put it that way, and no self-respecting consumer would admit it. You'd never hear such a dictatorial premise when discussing the benefits of behavioral modeling, ad targeting, paid search placement, and even the voodoo of SEO; anticipating, nudging, and otherwise hoping to convert consumer interests and desires into transactions is all about ease and value. It's done in the name of providing consumers a customized experience.
But imagine instead the same efforts applied to the reality of everyday life: objects in the fridge array themselves based on past consumption, while less-used items move to the back or are ejected. Looking out the window doesn't reveal an entire landscape, but rather the best sight-line sliver determined by where you looked the last dozen times, or maybe by what your neighbors looked at. Clothes closets are filled with the most popular items, as determined by the crowd. Pick up a mobile phone, and your most likely call is automatically dialed. Every moment chosen and filled with the information (and other people) teed-up because of a highest likelihood of preference, or percentage chance of prompting a purchase.
Your life, brought to you by an endless array of sponsors, explicit and implicit.
Even more strangely, the world around you gets more individualized and controlled the more you live it, so your new experiences are ever-more modulated and metered by your past experiences. Tomorrow looks more and more like yesterday, because that's the world your experience limits. You don't just see what you want to see, but rather live what outside agencies believe you will want to see. And do. And think.
I know, I know, that's not how it works exactly. My point isn't to debate the technologies that make it possible. For sure, human beings can do whatever they want for whatever reason whatsoever. Only we don't, at least not all that often, which is why so many people are making money anticipating behavior. And, up to this point, the only folks who have really gotten hot about these circumstances are a small niche of free speechers, complemented by an even smaller cadre of culture-jamming anti-corporatists.
If it was happening in real life like I suggested above, we'd have a revolution underway in about a nanosecond. Because it's online, however, and with the help of a very compelling and intoxicating chorus of supporters, most consumers are utterly ignorant of the lengths to which the systems that surround them go to architect and control what info gets in and out.
Does that mean that they also trust how they're being led? Is ignorance of being controlled the same thing as accepting it?
We talk a lot in marketing circles about the meaning of trust in our Internet Age, and I wonder how much of it is implicit (and whether that means it's trust at all)?
My gut tells me that consumers will wake up to what's going on, whether in 2010 or a bit later, and start requiring a lot more verification before they consciously bestow their trust. I'd also bet that the giant brainiacs at Google know this and are trying to get ahead of the conversation, though whether to enable or stifle it is a question that can't be answered right now.
Maybe a smart marketing strategy would be to find ways to make "proof" the real synonym for trust?