When Google announced it was consolidating numerous individual privacy policies for products across its ecosystem into one single policy there was significant public outcry claiming that the company would be collecting more data and abusing user’s privacy.

Google's Single Privacy Policy: much ado about nothing?

At the time, I wrote that the change was “much ado about nothing” and that I failed to understand the strength of feeling over the issue but others didn’t agree. In an attempt to feed on the prevailing sentiment Microsoft criticised the move and tried to tempt users back to its own products as they worked to “keep you safe and secure online” and “give you control over your data”.

How times have changed.

Just over a year ago I wrote that “competition is the social driver” and that product choices are often influenced by the expectation of the user:

“PC v Mac, Android v iPhone, the browser wars – it’s not just about stealing features from the competition. Once a feature exists on one platform the consumer comes to expect it no matter what they are using. Popular functionality becomes the de facto industry standard by virtue of demand – if your platform doesn’t have it your customers will want to know why.”

Whether it is a specific function within your favourite social network or a feature on your smartphone consumer expectation means that, to a degree, products must adhere to the “social norm” in order to stay competitive. The Apple v Samsung patent spat illustrates that the latter realised this early and needed to adapt to keep pace with the iPhone. Apple have also conformed by enhancing certain functionality such as the notification tray to keep pace with Android.

Competitive advantage

A specific product choice, design feature or, even, policy change can give the company adopting it a competitive advantage; Google realised this and implemented the single privacy policy in order to utilise “the whole person” across its products rather than working with isolated facets of our online lives. It would seem that Microsoft has now come to the same conclusion.

News that an update to the Microsoft Services Agreement now allows the company to utilise data from individual products (such as SkyDrive or Hotmail) across all services in its cloud has prompted a call of hypocrisy as Microsoft seeks to emulate the very actions that Google were lambasted for.

Adapt or else

The unexpected success of the Google+ social spine and its connection with the knowledge graph, combined with the continuing power of social entities such as Facebook and Twitter, means that Microsoft must also adapt; it would appear that to do so has required a full 180 degree turn on the subject of a combined privacy policy.

Context and relevance are now the key drivers for the web so the ability to tailor user experience based on interests, connections and activity is an absolute requirement.

This move is not, however, hypocrisy but a realisation that functionality must shift towards the social norm in order to stay relevant and competitive. Unfortunately, opportunistic statements designed to benefit from the problems of others can sometimes come back to haunt you.

Image by Sean MacEntee


 
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