Google’s Marissa Mayer on Privacy vs. Transparency

TechCrunch posted a transcript of a Charlie  Rose interviewing Google Vice President of Search Product and User Experience Marissa Mayer.

Here’s an excerpt I found particularly interesting:

Charlie Rose:
This is a broader philosophical question I want to talk about later. But I mean is there some point in which we know too much about people?

Marissa Mayer:
Well I think that in all cases it’s a tradeoff, right, where you will give you some of your privacy in order to gain some functionality, and so we really need to make those tradeoffs really clear to people, what information are we using and what’s the benefit to them? And then ultimately leave it to user choice so the user can decide. And you have to be very transparent about what information you have about that user and how it’s being used.

Charlie Rose:
But it’s also seems to me clearly a product of age and generation, how willing you are to give up privacy and to allow transparency, clearly.

Marissa Mayer:
Sure, absolutely…

That’s a great attitude. I only which Charlie Rose had fact-checked Google’s actual policy when it comes to transparency. Indeed, Google’s lack of transparency with advertisers, who are its bread and butter, recently cost them $761 and a bunch of bad press. While I’m sure Google can afford the judgment (less than 2.5 shares of GOOG stock at the time of this writing), I hope they see this experience as an opportunity to review their principles.

And, of course, don’t get me started on the lack of transparency in their approach to relevance! For those who haven’t been regular readers, here are two of my recent posts about Google:

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

4 replies on “Google’s Marissa Mayer on Privacy vs. Transparency”

oh my goodness, this is the money quote: “Well I think that in all cases it’s a tradeoff, right, where you will give you some of your privacy in order to gain some functionality.”

Someone needs to tell Marissa/Google that it works the opposite way around. Google needs to understand that it needs to give up some of its own (algorithmic) privacy (aka lack of transparency) in order for the users to gain functionality. It’s the same argument!

Why can’t they see this? It floors me sometimes.


They’ll act on it only when they see a clear way to extract benefit from it.

Otis, read this

Ten things Google has found to be true: 1. Focus on the user and all else will follow. From its inception, Google has focused on providing the best user experience possible. While many companies claim to put their customers first, few are able to resist the temptation to make small sacrifices to increase shareholder value.

So I’m telling you that there is a clear way to extract benefit from transparency: Users will benefit. And Google claims that what benefits the users benefits themselves. QED.

Or are you saying that Google is just another one of those companies that claims to put the user first, but doesn’t actually do it? In bold contradiction to their #1 philosophy?

Oh, wait, you do say this:

Like everyone else.

Google has long claimed, even held as a prized ideal, the notion that they are not like everyone else.

If they really are like everyone else, they need to say so. There is clear value to the user in knowing and understanding this.


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