Trust me, I work for Microsoft

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I am on the plane back from London after a fun few days with the folks there. It’s always a pleasure to return to my home town, though it’s a little strange returning there now that I don’t live there any more, and rather eye-wateringly expensive now that I’m paid in dollars ($100 cab fare, anyone? How about an $8 tube ticket?).

Highlight of the trip was my panel session at SES London with Jim Sterne, Bryan Eisenberg, Brian Clifton of Google and Steve Jackson, discussing the future of web analytics in search. Our host, Kevin Ryan, quizzed us about the “rise” of the free tools and what tensions that would create with site owners (and their visitors) having to get used to sharing their data with companies like Google and Microsoft. Can we be trusted not to misuse the data entrusted to us for nefarious ends?

Brian was a little coy about this, insisting that for Google to misuse the data it gets from Google Analytics (for example, to manipulate bid pricing) would be tantamount to fraud, and so of course would be out of the question. I believe him, and believe the same of Microsoft too – it would be suicidal (not to mention morally reprehensible and howlingly naive) of Microsoft to take anything other than the greatest care with the data we collect from Gatineau. But – and let’s not beat about the bush here – this data is of value to us, and the benefit we get from it subsidizes the development of free tools like GA and Gatineau. And we need to be open and honest about that.

Where Brian and I differed on the panel was that I can all too easily believe that the general public will not be totally reassured by any insistence we make that we will look after their data and only use it responsibly. Maybe this is because I work for a company that – how can I put it? – doesn’t enjoy the highest levels of trust in the industry. For me, building trust in our stewardship of data is something that we have had to do day by day, brick by brick, but more importantly something that we will always need to continue to do – a garden that we will always need to tend, if you like.

It’s certainly not enough simply to stay inside the law and expect to maintain user trust simply because nothing bad (like a data leak) has happened on our watch. Even if we feel we are doing everything right, if we stop trying to build trust, it will wither away.

The rest of the panel discussion passed without much incident, and afterwards I had a chance to have a good chat with Bryan (with a Y) about the plans that FutureNow are putting together to create a new class of offering in the site/campaign optimization/analytics space. I look forward to further announcements from Bryan on this soon.

The formalities (such as they were) of SES done, we retired to Spanish restaurant Moro (the name of which generated an impromptu “Who’s on first base?” gag – “Where are we going?” “To Moro” “I thought we were going tonight” “We are, we’re going to Moro” “We’re going twice?” “No, just once – to Moro”, “I thought you said we were going tonight”, etc), where we were joined by my UK colleague and adCenter stalwart Mel Carson (whom you should sponsor), Rob Stevens of UK usability firm Bunnyfoot, and the inimitable Dennis Mortensen. A fine time was had by all, with Bryan E taking a number of deeply unflattering photos of us and uploading them via his mobile to Facebook.

And then, after dinner, for me, the highlight of the evening – finally meeting Dave Naylor (the man who leaked the screenshots of Gatineau back in August last year) in the flesh for the first time. And what a nice man he is.

4 thoughts on “Trust me, I work for Microsoft”

  1. To be honest, at a fundamental level I don’t think this will really be an issue. Outside of a very select group of individuals who utilize tools such as Gatineau and GA, or those whom bother to install something like the Mozilla plugin NoScript, how many individuals are even aware what either of these terms/products mean/are? Heck, the term Gatineau, being a Torontonian, conjures images of a location, not a product. Inherent in your argument is that you think this will change and that individuals will become aware of GA, Gatineau and other tools that collect data on the web and truth be told, I think we are a long way away from this reaching such a collective consciousness.
    However, if we grant that somehow it does reach such an understanding, then I think it’s useful to segment by two categories, those whom utilize such tools and the general web browser. Those whom utilize the tools will need some confirmation that the data will be not misused, but, so long as you offer value to individuals such as myself, I have a very compelling reason to utilize your product. Short of a massive data leak, I’ll trust you, kind overlords Microsoft and Google, to not abuse my data as I utilize your products. For the end user however, it’s an uphill battle.
    If I have Mozilla NoScript installed, what possible reason do I have to click on options and allow you or to collect anything from me? You will provide me, the end user, with little perceived value and I don’t think a pie in the sky argument such as “Well we’d improve the site, so we both win” would fly.
    In the end, as I said, I think it’s more useful as a thought exercise than anything else. I don’t think many people have the foggiest idea what GA or Gatineau really are, nor, if they were informed of them, would they care enough to try and actively block either of your products. On the other hand, if something like NoScript, which defaults to rejecting everything becomes more common place, you’re going to have a hard time convincing people to allow you to scope out their viewing habits.

  2. The captcha thing wouldn’t load. Eventually I pressed the back button to resend, but then my message wasn’t there. So my original comment will never be posted now. Check your GA account (LOL) to see if this is a common issue. Last time I checked I’m not a spambot. They’re not wearing sunglasses, are they? 😉
    Glad you made certain Steve didn’t get lost in a pub. He likes his beers BIG. 😉

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