CMI Blog

The Future of Google

 

For several decades, Google has dominated the world of online research. With the powerful algorithms and keyword indexes unique to this search engine, Google’s reach has gone beyond the online realm.

When it comes to volume of users and mass adoption, this behemoth company has captured the world’s imagination and become commonplace in people’s digital lives, not only because of its search engine, but also because of its dominance in the advertising arena.

It’s worth noting that Google’s success is directly correlated to its 5 billion-strong user base – a wealth of potential customers to market to. Advertising on Google is now an inevitability for most business owners. It’s Google’s world and businesses must live in it.

However, as much as businesses, large and small, are compelled to use Google for advertising, constant advertising is not what consumers want. ‘Banner blindness’ and ad blockers are rendering Google’s major business model at risk.

So what is the future of this cultural phenomenon?

Ad Blocking

In 2015, about 50% of all online customers adopted ad-block technology. According to a report by PageFair, 615 million devices and 11% of the global internet population use ad-blocking software. 67% of millenials have installed ad-blockers to relieve themselves from incessant advertising that defies interaction.

Whereas ad-blocking software offers some respite for users, it is a threat to the world of digital marketing. Ad-blocker users access information online without generating ad revenue for site owners. Considering that much of the commercial information online is provided under ad-financed business models, ad-blockers have the power to undermine the digital ecosystem. While some have directed their business model into a paywall system (notably, many publishers whose print products are rapidly losing readership in the digital age) many still heavily rely on advertising. It is essentially in Google’s best interest to keep potential advertisers happy, but they also need to think about UX. Right now, sceptics believe that Google is not getting the balance right.

Google has responded to users’ demands for fewer popups by improving Chrome extension security. The upcoming Declarative Net Request API, the company says, ‘will better protect users' data and help ad blockers work more efficiently’. But ad-blocker developers argue that the new arrangement will hinder their ability to quickly and correctly identify ads, and claim that this is yet another way for Google to keep their monopoly on targeted advertising by undermining external ad-blocker software. Some have also complained that the costly updates developers are forced to take on are a cynical cash grab from a company reluctant to let go of advertising with impunity.

Tellingly, advertisers have not been too vocal about these changes because the update will not impact the paid advertisement models that Google has in place under their GoogleAds umbrella.

Mining data

With the Netflix documentary The Great Hack making headlines, and the #OwnYourData movement gathering steam, the general public is aware that the personal data mined by Google is valuable and should no longer be given freely.

In January of this year, Google was fined $57 million by a French regulatory agency, the first time a large Silicon Valley company has been penalised for violating GDPR. According to the ruling, Google failed to act transparently to obtain valid consent for the personalisation of its ads. Among other things, Google utilised hidden consent boxes, which violated the GDPR principle that users must ‘OK’ each specific use of their data.

Newer web browsers such as Brave offer an alternative to Google by suggesting their users take control, using their automatic ad-blocking open source browser, and earning cryptocurrency in exchange for viewing adverts (a currency known as BAT – basic attention token).

Some Silicon Valley leaders have proposed that individuals should become “data shareholders,” able to sell their data to companies which then would have unlimited access to mine their personal information. Although it sounds innovative, the monetisation of data would mean users earn only a fraction of their data’s value. For example, Facebook’s 2 billion monthly users would each receive about $9 a year if the company proportionally distributed its profits, so this doesn’t seem to be a viable solution.

Others have proposed a “privacy as paid service” business model, in which companies like Facebook and Google would create a second, premium service that charges for a privacy-friendly, ad-free user experience, similar to the online subscription model of Netflix and Amazon Prime.

So what is the future of Google in this new landscape?

Since Google set the standard for how search engines function, it remains powerful worldwide. The issue is: Google is now facing challenges within regions it hasn’t controlled in the past – advertising regulation and data regulation. It’s not about Google becoming redundant; it’s about the legislation that didn’t exist becoming more and more important. Before long, Google will no longer able to run free and dominate the market.

New legal demands, arising from our attitude as users, give other players seats at the table. Google’s dominance has always been down to its users and modifying its algorithm alongside user behaviour. The modification of Google in light of UX demands or legal data ownership requirements is just an extension of that. In the win or lose environment of online platforms, we will see Google testing new products to keep pace with competitors who are already thinking ahead to the next cultural wave in the online world. With more significant social pressure, the brand must examine its online footprint more thoroughly, and find ways to be transparent to users and regulators.

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Graham Stead

Graham Stead is Client Relationship Director at CMI Limited, and has worked in the IT industry for over 30 years. Starting his IT career as an engineer for Hewlett-Packard, Graham later started his own business which he sold to CMI in 2016. As Client Relationship Director, Graham is responsible at CMI for ensuring our clients receive expert commercial IT advice that a modern business demands.