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Research / Insights on current and emerging industry topics

Consumers are unaware of many of Google’s data practices

April 5, 2019 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

Numerous privacy scandals fueled the need for increased examination of tech companies’ data tracking practices. For years now, the practice of data collection, data mining techniques and practices and the potential violations of consumer privacy have been questioned. However, it wasn’t until the Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica scandal that consumers realized the value of their personal data.

Cambridge Analytica was by no means an isolated case. Last summer, an Associated Press investigation found that Google’s location tracking is never really disabled. Tracking continued, even if you turn it off in a number of Google apps, including Maps, Search, and others. Further, research from Professor Douglas Schmidt of Vanderbilt University found that Google engaged in “passive” data-collection often without the user’s knowledge. His study also showed that Google utilized data collected from other sources to de-anonymize user data. This is why DCN wrote this column, “It isn’t just about Facebook, it’s about Google, too” in the Washington Post when Facebook first faced Capitol Hill. It’s also why the description, Surveillance Advertising, has now stuck to describe Google and Facebook’s businesses.

With consumers on alert, news of Google’s violation of personal data practices are not fading. Understanding that trust is a result of delivering on expectations, DCN surveyed a nationally-representative sample* to find out just exactly what people expect from Google. As with a similar study we conducted last year that measured consumer expectations of Facebook, the results were unsettling.

Google uses personal data to tailor and micro-target ads, from which most of its $135 billion revenue comes. Unfortunately, our findings show that many of Google’s data practices deviate from consumer expectations. We recognize and find it even more significant that expectations are likely at an all-time low after the year that was 2018.

We asked consumers if they are aware that Google’s data practices include the following. Here’s how many said no:

Google’s personal data collection practices affects more than two billion consumers who use devices that run Google’s Android operating software and hundreds of millions more of iPhone users who rely on Google for maps or search. Most of them expect Google to collect some data about them in exchange for use of services. However, as our research shows, an alarming number of consumers are unaware that Google tracks their activities across the web on other sites and platforms, even when they turn off the tracking defaults. With new laws in Europe, California and federal discussion about how to bring similar protections to the rest of America, it’s critical to understand what consumers actually demand, align expectations to those demands and rebuild trust in our industry. The public shouldn’t expect anything less.

*ORC International Online CARAVAN®, 1004 Adults 18+, March 21-24, 2019.