These are unusually tough times for Google. The company, which is not accustomed to announcing bad news, is cutting 200 jobs in sales and marketing, (following the 100 recruitment jobs earlier this year) the biggest round of layoffs in the company's history. Meanwhile a group of British MPs is up in arms about the new Google Latitude mobile tracking technology and various consumer groups have noticed Google’s share of the search market (79% globally and over 85% in the UK).
Now what's all this fuss about Google Street View? And why is Google doing it?
Well perhaps it sounds like more of an invasion of privacy than it really is: after a successful launch in the US, Google has sent out vans to drive round the streets of 25 UK cities (covering over 22,000 miles!) taking still pictures of houses, shops and inevitably cars and people going about their everyday business. They’ve stuck these images together, constructing 360 degree views. Google has committed to blurring faces and car registration numbers and if you still think you can be identified and you’re not happy, you can complain and they will blur you more and even ‘wipe out’ your house if you wish. I predict the fuss will die down, as it largely has in the US.
As for why Google is doing it, there is only one possible answer; location, location, location. This is related to digital marketers’ holy grail of behavioural targeting; the general idea being to serve you advertising messages e.g. clickable banners, SMSs, Bluetooth alerts etc which are relevant to what you are doing, the mood you are in, and yes, even where you are (or plan to be). For me, this is a good thing. After all, isn't relevant and useful marketing the best sort? Don't most consumers tell us they welcome such helpful information about products and services?
Years ago I worked with a Dutch guy called Harold Goddijn; in fact our agency designed the logo for his start-up company. He didn't have much money but he paid us (on time) and said thank-you (= a good client). He told me with utter conviction that ‘location will be the next big thing in marketing’. Well it's taken a few years for the technology to catch up with the vision but TomTom is now Europe’s leading manufacturer of ‘Sat Nav’ systems (with 2009 forecast revenue over €1.5 billion) and Harold is deservedly a billionaire.
For my (somewhat lesser amount of) money, the UK Information Commissioner was right to ‘green light’ Google Street View. Despite its current difficulties (and these are unusual times for us all!) Google has, in its short corporate lifetime, consistently innovated and pushed the boundaries, at the same time creating what is arguably the world’s coolest brand with very little traditional marketing and promotion. Street View is only sharing images you or I can capture perfectly legally if we have a digital camera (on a 7 foot stick) and enough time to walk the streets of UK cities.
So if a service called something like 'Google Near Here' is next, then bring it on!