Survey Paradox: People Like Google But Not What It’s Doing

Last week the Pew Internet Project released findings of a survey on search, personalization and targeted advertising. In a nutshell, survey respondents had a very positive view of search and the quality of search results. Yet the majority gave an unequivocal thumbs down to search personalization (and behavioral targeting). This isn’t necessarily a contradiction or paradox in the abstract, but it is when you consider that the most popular search engine is moving aggressively in a direction most people say they don’t want search to go.

Here’s our earlier coverage of the survey:

To recap the basic findings, Pew reported that search usage was highly popular and essentially tied with email as the most common online activity — and still quite a bit more popular than social networking according to these findings.

Google’s US market share is just over 66 percent according to the most recent comScore data. However when asked which search engine they used most often, 83 percent of Pew respondents said Google.

The upbeat survey findings took an abruptly negative turn when Pew started asking people about search personalization and data mining. Two-thirds (65 percent) of users said search personalization was a “bad thing.” Nearly three-fourths (73 percent) said that data mining for the purpose of personalizing search results was “not okay.”

What’s fascinating here is that the public, at least in terms of these survey findings, doesn’t seem to be associating Google with any of the “not okay” things they don’t like about personalization and ad targeting. In fact there seems to be a complete disconnect between survey respondents’ positive views of search, and by extension Google, and disapproval of personalization and data mining.

Pew didn’t insert Google’s (or Bing’s) names into the questions about personalization or data mining to see if these activities would harm brand perception and usage. Pew simply asked about data mining in the abstract. However it would have been very interesting to see the answers to those more specific questions.

Google has met with intensifying criticism in the recent past over several privacy related incidents and missteps (e.g., Cookiegate, privacy policy changes). But the general US public seems not to have noticed. Google is probably assuming that any furor over SPYW and privacy will simply blow over and it won’t suffer any brand or image “penalty” or consumer defections to Bing. That may be a correct assumption — although the issue of online privacy is not going away any time soon.

My guess is that Google will generally ignore the Pew survey findings (though legislators probably won’t) and continue, full speed ahead, on its present personalization course.

Related Entries

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Features: Analysis | Google: Personalized Search | Google: Privacy | Google: Search Plus Your World | Google: Web Search | Legal: Privacy | Stats: Popularity | Stats: Search Behavior


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • Peter Saal

    Google is increasingly falling into the trap of looking over its shoulder instead of out-innovating everyone else. That seems to be a danger inherent in Silicon Valley these days. Not all that much real innovation happening is so many startups, with notable exceptions, but they’re still just that – exceptions. I love many of the innovations Google creates – Docs, Maps, Earth etc. I understand that Facebook is seen as a real threat to ad revenue. But it’s not going to succeed because they are all about controlling their users. Sooner or later that will blow up. Google’s paranoid focus on social is just retarded. Stop pretending to be something you’re not Google. You’re Geeks. Revel in it. Search has so much more improvement in front of it.

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