Voices of Search
A Searchmetrics Podcast
Episode 30, Changes to US Privacy Regulations

Episode Overview

Join Jordan and Ben for the fourth episode of 2019 SEO Predictions Week as we tackle how growing consumer digital privacy concerns and the dominance of tech platforms like Google, Facebook and Amazon are likely to be tackled by Congress and the impact to digital marketers.

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Episode Transcript

Ben:                 Welcome back to SEO Predictions Week on the Voices of Search Podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro and this week we’re going to publish an episode every day covering our bold SEO Predictions for 2019. But before we get started I wanted to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data-driven decisions. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary digital diagnostic. A member of our digital strategies group will provide you with a consultation that reviews how your website, content and SEO strategies can be optimized. To schedule your free digital diagnostic go to serchmetrics.com/diagnostic. Okay, joining us for SEO predictions week, again, is Jordan Koene, who is the lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. Today Jordan and I are going to continue sharing Jordan’s predictions. Specifically focusing on how government regulations will affect your SEO strategy in 2019. Here’s the 4th installment of SEO Predictions week with Jordan Koene, CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. Jordan, welcome to the show.

Jordan:             Hey Ben! We’re diving in here, we’re getting in the finish line now.

Ben:                 I know. Now we’re going to talk about things that are a little less technical and kind of deeper dives in terms of the predictions. We’re are to talk about some external factors. Specifically about the possibility for regulation in the technology industry. So Jordan, what’s your prediction for regulations in 2019?

Jordan:             Well Ben, regulation is a very interesting topic and it’s super relevant right now. Predominantly because Sundar, the CEO of Google, recently testified in front of Congress and in the House Judiciary Committee. And so there’s a little bit of conversation around this but if you really take a step back, the reality is that regulation for Google is not something new. They’ve been dealing with this, really, since kind of the 2010-2012 era when European legislators, in particular the EU, really started to come down on looking at certain Google practices and ensuring that those practices were not malicious or monopolistic in nature.

Ben:                 Yeah. I think that the conversation that happened with Google’s CEO and the Judiciary Committee, and that just happened in December, this month when we’re recording, December of 2018 and a lot of the conversation centered around customer privacy. And specifically I’m thinking of a Congressman who is asking Google’s CEO, “If I take my cell phone and I move from the right side of the house and sit with my friends on the Democratic side of the house and I move to the left, does Google know that I’ve moved?” And so a lot of this has to do with device tracking, location and it’s not just necessarily a Google question but about location, about privacy, we can talk a little bit about GDPR. Do you think that Google is going to get regulated because of concerns about privacy or is it at the competitive landscape that they’re looking at, that Google basically owns all of search?

Jordan:             Well, to answer this question specifically, it really is both. Fundamentally if we’re going to be truly unbiased regulators of search, we need to understand how its own ecosystem is playing out from a competitive standpoint as well as the ability to understand how privacy plays a role in that competitiveness. So I think those two things really kind of go, in some degree, hand in hand and they’re isolated situations all together. Because the reality, as Sundar highlighted, privacy varies based on users preferences. If you want Google to track your every move and you want to send that information to some app or to some company, you can choose to do that. And that is not necessarily a privacy issues because you’ve chosen, as an individual, to allow Google to track your every move or any other company or app or device that may be connected with your phone. And subsequently, that will also then impact your own search results. Because Google’s going to customize those results to ensure that there is the most relevant and useful information based on all the factors and data points that Google can acquire.

Jordan:             The interesting thing here is that in order for our legislation and our government representatives to truly understand this matter, they first need to understand that much of these concepts that they want to regulate are intertwined with one another. They’re interdependent with one another and it is very very critical for them to take into consideration the ramifications of those changes as they regulate them and create regulation work.

Ben:                 That’s exact. The US Congress is going to look at what happened in Europe specifically with GDPR which was meant to protect customer data and privacy. They’re looking at what happened with Facebook and they’re looking at the ability for devices to understand people’s behaviors and sort of create these profiles. It conflicts with the goal of marketers and ability to target and profile people for the use of valid marketing practices. Even though the average marketers collecting data and asking for options, I don’t think that consumers always know what they’re accepting in their terms and conditions. So, there is going to be regulation similar to GDPR that’s going to require additional pieces of content for marketers to get access to data. I think that that will be something that affects more than just Google and it’s very much related to what’s happening with Facebook as well and their data collection practices.

Jordan:             Yeah. You’re absolutely right Ben. I think that that is the fundamental challenge that we have as a society, as technology leaders, as companies. We have to be mindful of the fact that many of our constituents, many of our users have no idea what they’re opting into and they’re choosing to do.

Jordan:             Our government bodies need to do a better job of protecting us as consumers and that’s why I do predict that at some point here in the near future, regulation including in 2019, our big prediction here is that regulation will calm down. It will calm down in two forms likely in the personal private data protection realm as well as, and this is the trickier one because our government right now is a very conservative government who believes in, who believes really in freedom of competition. But I also predict that in order for them to legislate on one side, they will have to invaluably create restrictions and tame the competition.

Ben:                 Which is interesting to me because you’re saying that essentially the government is going to regulate … the best they going to call Google a search monopoly. Is that what you’re suggesting?

Jordan:             Well, I think it’s going to be more aligned to the practices, right? Is it okay for Google to monopolize the entire mobile screen with a map when you’re doing a local search query and that map happens to be a Google map? Those are the types of things that I think that we need to have a very clear conscious about and our government officials need to make a decision as to, or whether or not that they’re fair practice and whether or not that really is the way we want our consumers to be targeted. So I think that’s why those two things go hand in hand, privacy as well as competition.

Ben:                 I have questions about whether there will be regulation of the competitive landscapes specifically in search and I think that the argument for Google here is, Google is clearly the dominant player in search and may very much have a monopoly in Search but Google has plenty of competition. They’re competing against Amazon and Facebook and Apple in a couple of different fronts. On the device side they’re obviously competing with Apple you know, Android versus Apple. In terms of voice search even though they have a strategic relationship and E-commerce, they’re fighting E-commerce front. And then at the end of the day, Google makes the vast majority of their revenue as a data provider and advertiser and Facebook is the big competition there.

Ben:                 So, to me it’s kind of they’re these … There’s been consolidation at the top in the tech industry and you’ve had these major powers forming and growing and accumulating more strength over time. If you’re going to regulate Google because they are dominant in the search space, how do you not regulate Facebook who is dominant in the social media space or how do you not regulate Amazon who’s becoming more dominant in the E-commerce?

Ben:                 I think the government shies away from that. I think that they focus their efforts on regulating for privacy and their best will just make almost a carbon copy of what GDPR is.

Jordan:             I totally agree with you that is the predicament that we are in. Which is, how is it that we can say there this diverse, unique competitive landscape in the technology world? But then simultaneously I think that the opposite argument to that is, if we wanna protect consumers, then we also have to protect the competitive nature of these ecosystems. And so I think that one side of lawyers going to be arguing that and the other side will otherwise be arguing your point which is that there is a huge, diverse, competitive landscape and then we’re all openly going to see where this thing nets out. Tens or hundreds of millions of dollars will be wasted on expensive lawyers and eventually I think our legislators are going to have to make a decision or our courts are going to have a decision on some of these issues.

Ben:                 Basically, what you’re saying is 2019 is going to be a good tire to be a corporate lawyer at Google?

Jordan:             Yeah, I wouldn’t just look at Google

Ben:                 At Facebook as well and maybe even at Apple.

Jordan:             Exactly, it will be definitely be a good year and all the firms that support those companies will be … will certainly be cashing in on that opportunity.

Ben:                 If there are any law students listing, hang in tight there your ship is coming in.

Jordan:             Maybe attract some law students to our podcast.

Ben:                 So good Jordan, let’s go a little deeper for second. I mentioned that there was the conversation about a Congressman looking at sort of device location and how the implications for privacy. With the judiciary hearing, did anything else stick out to you?

Jordan:             One of the big things and I think it’s anyone who wants to listen to the three hours of video that came from the testimony. I want to highlight the fact that so much time was dedicated to political bias. So much time was dedicated to the election. I really think that’s very unfortunate because the reality is that that bias and all of you who are search marketers know, that bias is inherently generated by users behaviors. I don’t know if Google made that point anymore clear that they use all these ranking factors from the users or essentially evaluating and determining what content is the most important. That is how rankings essentially get determined. Yes, there are other factors when you’re dealing with the competitor cycles like performance, we talk a lot about that, accessibility and links and stuff like that. But fundamentally this bias is not a bias that is created by Google. It’s a bias that’s created by the users who are engaging with this content.

Jordan:             I wouldn’t necessarily even call it a bias, I would just call that user behavior. Consumer behavior. It’s like if you walked into a store, people buy more popular products than less popular products. It’s inherently part of our consumption DNA whether the content on the web or a product in a shelf in a store.

Ben:                 Without going into either of our personal politics ’cause it sounds like this is not the place for that, I think the example that comes up in my mind, that highlights what you’re talking about is that there was a congresswoman who said when you search in Google under images for the word idiot, a picture of Donald Trump comes up. So, Google is therefore biased against the Republican party and Donald Trump and Google is response was, “We’re not choosing to put that picture there, it is an algorithm that is taking signals from all the people that use Google and associating what they think with the word idiot and there are more people that are associating a picture of Donald Trump with the word idiot than there is anything else.”

Jordan:             We can do a better job explaining how that happens and why that happens and the unfortunate thing is the ignorance and the lack of knowledge from our elected representatives is just appalling. And to jump on top of that because this is not about our own political beliefs, it’s just about how this technology work. The more appalling piece of this is that … I’m sure all of you know this, maybe you don’t but it’s important for you to know this. That all of these elected officials have millions of dollars to spend on staff which is predominantly a group of lawyers that help educate them, teach them, guide them, coach them on these matters. The thing that is really appalling to me about this entire testimony is that whoever is working for this elected official clearly has no clue how the internet works. That’s the saddest part about this.

Ben:                 I disagree. I don’t think that they have no clue how the internet works, I think that this is politics being politics where because there is a perceived bias against the Republican party, and there is a powerful Republican party spearheaded by Republican president. Even though the Republican leaders might understand how the internet work or at least their staff does, it doesn’t behoove them to play smart and say, “Hey, Google is just reflecting what the masses say.” They want to say that this is unfair because when people use Google then there is some question in their mind. I honestly think that this is politics. That’s just the nature of the game and it’s not necessarily related to SEO practice even though Google is fielding the pressure of politics, it’s that there is a segment that might be one sided that Google is publicizing because that’s the signal they’re getting from their users.

Ben:                 Whether it’s your personal belief or my personal belief is relevant, that’s what Google is basically saying. It’s like, “Hey look, when somebody is looking for an idiot, most people or the majority of people are relating that to Donald Trump and we are highlighting that it doesn’t mean that Donald Trump is an idiot. It doesn’t mean that he is not an idiot.”

Jordan:             Right.

Ben:                 But the Republican party’s obviously going to say, “Hey, this is unfair,” whether Google practices are fair or not.

Jordan:             Correct, correct.

Ben:                 That’s the nature of politics.

Ben:                 Let’s turn the page a little bit away from the potential political biases in this conversation into how does this actually affect SEOs? As we’re talking about the privacy regulations and we’re talking about the anti-competitive regulations that could be coming down, what does your SEOS do to prepare and get ready for these potential circumstances?

Jordan:             I mean, I got to tell you it’s really difficult. It’s not easy to prepare for this and it’s really funny because GDPR originated in Germany and we have our corporate parent based in Berlin and we have many, many, many more customers in Europe than we do in US. And it was really interesting as much of the EU regulation came to be not just in GDPR but even before that the competitiveness and the competitive nature of Google, it was really fascinating to hear how many of our customers reacted to those changes. Some of them were very eager and very attuned to what was going on and they themselves started to adapt, improve their content, adjust their practices to become more relevant in a changing competitive landscape.

Jordan:             Many people don’t know this, but in Europe there are now requirements that Google has to adhere to in order to have a truly competitive ecosystem around certain key places, around certain industries in particular classified businesses which have been decimated as well as shopping comparison businesses which have been decimated obviously in the US but also have been in Europe and now have a much more competitive chance in Europe due to regulation.

Jordan:             The real take with that Ben because this is a great question is, you have to be present aware of these changes and then have your organization ready to adapt and jump on these opportunities if it’s relevant. Because it’s not always relevant and may not be defined as very isolate.

Ben:                 The first thing that sticks out in my head is, when there are these changes and it’s hard to predict regulatory changes and what’s speculating obviously on how congress might come down and whether they are going to regulate against Google for privacy concerns, whether it impacts all marketers, whether this is going to be entire regulatory or privacy regulations. This really goes into what’s your planning process and how are you able to be nimble? Because when these regulations do happen, it’s essentially the same thing as an algorithm change where the landscape is changing and you need to be able to adjust and adapt and so having a good setup of your priorities being able to stay on top of what’s happening and being able to curve the space to make the changes that you need to without it impacting your other priorities, is the people that are going to be able to move the fastest, are going to win. And so, staying nimble and staying on top of the changes is the way to stay ahead.

Jordan:             You’re so right Ben I couldn’t have said it better.

Ben:                 Interesting topic 2019 and how Google plays nice with the governments here in the US is fascinating and we’re looking forward to hearing what’s going to happen.

Ben:                 That wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search Podcast. Thank you for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. We’d love to continue this conversation with you so if you’re interested in contacting Jordan you can find the link to bio on our share notes or you can contact him on Twitter where his handle is @jtkoene.

Ben:                 If you have general marketing question or you want to talk about this podcast, you can find my contact information on our share notes or you can send me a tweet @benjsajp, If you’re in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic online visibility or to gain competitive insights, head over to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic for your complimentary advisory session with our digital strategists team.

Ben:                 If you like this podcast and you want a regular stream of visual and content marketing insights in your podcast field, hit the subscribe button on your podcast app and will be back on your feed tomorrow morning to discuss how Google will change their distribution strategy for search. Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast and you’re feeling generous, we’d love you to leave us your view in the Apple iTune Store or wherever you listen your podcast.

Ben:                 okay, that’s it for today but until next time, remember the answers are always in data.