Your really good friends know you well; they know what you like to drink, your favourite restaurants and what makes you laugh. But true friends never presume. They never buy your favourite drink in advance of you arriving in the pub; instead they wait and when you arrive ask you if you would like your usual white wine. After all, your friend thinks, you may want a change or you might be on your latest diet, avoiding alcohol. Good friends do not over-personalise things for you – they let you be in control.
Google wants to be your friend, but unfortunately it doesn’t understand what being a friend is really like. In fact, Google is rapidly turning into that annoying so-called friend who assumes he knows what you want to eat and has ordered for you, or the interfering neighbour at your barbecue who realises there is no music and chooses something “you will like”. They are trying to be helpful but are over-stepping the mark because they do not appreciate there is a difference between helpfulness and annoying interference.
Until recently Google was a helpful friend, providing you with search results on what you want. But in its recent desire to be at the centre of the social world Google appears to think it really understands you and is ever-increasing its amount of so-called personalisation. In reality it is becoming an annoying little jerk.
Take for instance the fact that you may be researching something for a client – it’s not something YOU are interested in, but is part of a short-term project. Guess what, Google assumes you love the subject and it pops up in adverts on all sorts of websites as well as in Google News Recommendations. Of course, the stuff you are really, personally interested in has gone down the list because Google thinks it knows you. Get real, Google, you don’t…!
There are ways you can deal with this. For instance you can opt out of the Google advertising cookie so it doesn’t track your search terms and use them in adverts. But the problem then is you are faced with “generic” adverts, which are largely dating sites – and do you really want them all over your screen? You can also use a sophisticated way of searching adding special characters at the end of the search results page you are given and then hitting enter to delete the “personalisation”. But that is just cumbersome and only fine for computer geeks.
It gets worse, of course, because Google thinks it knows you and wants to influence what you might do on Google+. It also wants to personalise your email experience by putting emails in the “right order” for you.
It’s about time the folks at Google realised they are like that annoying acquaintance who thinks they are helping, but in reality are interfering. Google engineers think they have the data to understand your preferences, but compared with the brains of your true friends, Google actually knows diddly-squat about you. The mountains of data are nothing in comparison to the subconscious thinking of your true friends.
Google has a long way to go, but it could certainly help its progress if it switched off its atrocious attempts at personalisation.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+