Credibility and the Exit Option

Reader Pete makes a great point about Google’s Data Liberation Front:

Moves like the Data Liberation Front function are a costly, and therefore credible, signal to users that Google they should be comfortable giving users their [data]. Google’s basically an advertising-broker, and it’s good at what it does insofar as people feel comfortable offering it access to the more intimate aspects of their lives. Speaking personally, the fact that I can get out reasonably easily and costlessly makes me more comfortable with using Google.

Almost more important is that everyone else can do the same – a big enough privacy scare and a lot of people are going to be making use of the DLF. That implicit threat makes Google’s guarantees of user privacy a lot more credible.

This is in contrast to some of Google’s major competitors, who make lock-in a central part of their business strategy. For example, if you invest thousands of dollars developing an iPad app, Apple may unilaterally decide to destroy your investment without warning, explanation, or recourse. Not only does the DLF give users have the freedom to switch to another platform if Google ever pulls a similar stunt, but the existence of the exit option gives Google a strong incentive never to abuse its users’ trust.

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One Response to Credibility and the Exit Option

  1. Pete says:

    Cripes. If I’d known I was going to be quoted I would have proof-read a little more carefully. Thanks for tidying it up.

    The other thing I meant to emphasise is that Google’s commitment to openness ultimately depends on openness being the smart move for Google. Giving the company credit where credit is due is a big part of that, because if users understand that Google’s incentives for protecting user privacy are very different from, say, Facebook’s, then they’ll presumably end up rewarding Google for that.

    At the same time, as someone who used to buy into the idea that Google would always fight for openness, fair use and apple pie, I think it’s important to realise that there are some pretty obvious limits to this principle. Check out the standard disclaimer for Google Book Search public domain books:

    >Google is proud to partner with libraries to digitize public domain materials and make them widely accessible. Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians. Nevertheless, this work is expensive, so in order to keep providing this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties, including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

    So I don’t think Google’s stances on openness and lock-in are written into the corporate DNA in quite the way that Rosenburg makes them out to be – it’s simply that Google’s core business model makes certain sorts of openness work.

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