The Privacy Engine: Ask.com or MSN Live’s Big Comeback Opportunity

Sometimes on MattCutts.com I am so busy trying to “read between his lines” and figure out “what it means for my organic SEO strategy”, that I forget what a smart guy Matt Cutts actually is.

Now I know it’s currently in fashion to call Google evil, call them hypocrites, etc. but the truth is, when it comes to privacy Google is the least of your worries. Matt explains why:

So my personal belief would be that if privacy is important to you, Google should not be your biggest concern for two reasons. First, I believe Google does more to protect our users’ privacy than any other major search engine. Second, I believe other companies such as ISPs have a superset of the data that Google has, plus they have verified payment/identity, plus they know which IP addresses you are on, even if you switch IP addresses.

And as he points out, the other SEs hand data over to the DOJ without so much as a whimper, and the ISPs actually sell your data.

Of course, I wish Google would cut their ‘anonymization time’ down to 2 months (from 18-24). Two years is simply waaaay too long for Big Brother, annoying subpoenas, etc. to go fishing. But the truth is if we’re going to whine about privacy we really need to start whining to Yahoo!, MSN, and our ISP’s because they’re waaaay behind the Big G in this regard.

So, where’s the business opportunity here? (In case you haven’t noticed, that is the question Tropical SEO is always asking himself.)

Well, I believe that switching costs are higher than most people commonly think for a search user; at this point the only thing that would make me switch my homepage and default search to Live or Ask would be if they became “the privacy engine” (e.g. take Google’s anonymizing to a new level–2 weeks?–and set a much shorter cookie, etc.)

At a certain point, search relevancy is a relative commodity (is Google really that much better than is was a year ago?), and other priorities are going to determine where searchers hang their hats. For millions of searchers out there, the overriding “other priority” is privacy.

Yoo-hoo, is anyone at Ask or Live listening? Remember, privacy-lovers are ‘geek influencers’ (the same group that made Google dominant in the first place.) Give us privacy-lovers the features we want, and you will gain a large amount of web search marketshare, and geek love (which is great for branding in today’s linkerati world)… not to mention make a ton of money on our CPC clicks.

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