Google’s New Snooper Scooper Can Say Goodbye to “One Click Away”

If you follow the outstanding work of Chairman Kohl, Ranking Member Mike Lee, Senators Cornyn, Klobuchar, Franken, Blumenthal and other members and staff on the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, you will no doubt have heard them challenge Google as a monopolist.  Google’s response was that their competition was “one click away” so they just had to compete like everyone else.

If there was something about this “one click away” business that sounded like bunk, but you couldn’t put your finger on it–here it is.

Today Google’s new privacy policy takes effect–the “snooper scooper” where they consolidate all the information they collect about their users.  This is especially true of people with Gmail accounts who, for example, stay logged into their Gmail accounts all day–that is, while they use the Internet in other ways.  As the Washington Post tells us “If you, like many people, are constantly signed in to your Gmail account throughout the day, things get a little more complicated.”

Oh yes, do things ever get “a little more complicated.”  If even the tech writers at the Washington Post feel the need to distance themselves from this snooper scooper, then you know there must be a real problem.

But here’s the twist–the reason why Google’s application of its snooper scooper privacy is a problem for consumers is because of the high cost of switching.  Google wants antitrust regulators to think that switching from Google to another search engine is just like switching from Pepsi to Coke.  This is way beyond Pepsi and Coke.  The Washington Post also tells us:

[Consumers say they are] overwhelmed by the thought of starting over with a new e-mail service, transferring…contacts, and combing through thousands of messages to retrieve family pictures and legal documents.

That’s what Google and other Web firms are counting on as they tap consumers for more information about their lives, analysts say. Once you’re hooked on one service, it’s hard to switch. (emphasis mine)

So the point is that Google’s users are not one click away and, frankly, were never intended to be one click away.  That is simply bunk.  Not only is it bunk, but it is hard to believe that Schmidt didn’t know it was bunk when he said it under oath to the U.S. Senate.

The Washington Post goes on to say:

Users won’t be able to opt out. If they don’t like the change, Google has said, they can avoid signing into their accounts or stop using Google products altogether.

But that’s easier said than done, experts say. For the 350 million people using Gmail around the world, moving to a new e-mail program is perhaps more inconvenient than changing a mailing address or a bank account.

The “high switching cost” — as business parlance calls it — didn’t happen by accident, analysts say. (emphasis mine)

And just in case you were wondering what did they plan and when did they plan it, Google’s economist Hal Varian wrote about using the “high switching cost” as a customer retention tool as far back as 1998.

Yes, 1998.  That was before Schmidt testified.

But Google is trying to capitalize on just this strategy with the snooper scooper–as Eric Schmidt said of Google Street View:  “You could always move.”

Right.  Very Googlely.  And if you felt violated when you read Schmidt’s condescending, callous and creepy admonition, you are feeling “high switching cost” in action.

Whether you haven’t figured out yet that when someone gives you something free that YOU are the product, or even if you don’t care because you have stopped struggling against a degree of consumerization that is about as complete as the Ministry of Truth could ever make it, one thing is undeniable about the underlying reason that Google’s snooper scooper privacy policy is a problem.

Google users are not one click away from anything.

Except maybe a Google ad.

A Google ad served based on something the user said in a voice mail on Google Voice or an email on Gmail.  And do you really think this was an accident?

So its seems reasonable that the Antitrust Subcommittee should revisit Schmidt’s testimony with this new snooper scooper privacy policy in mind.  This must have been planned well before Schmidt testified.  In fact, it shouldn’t be too much of a reach to think that this has been the plan all along, particularly since we have a senior Google official on the record in 1998 advocating just such a strategy (note that was before Varian was hired at Google).  Of course, it will take a search warrant to ever find this out, and even then it would not be surprising that evidence had been destroyed given the apparent shelf life of evidence in the Googleplex.

But whatever happens, let’s not let them get away with that “one click away” bunk anymore, OK folks?