Ian Monk: Google does battle with the old guard

Predictably for an organisation whose corporate messaging is underpinned by a stated desire to make the world a better place, Google's PR throughout the privacy controversy generated by the UK launch of its Street View initiative has been smart.

Ian Monk
Ian Monk

On and offline, messaging is warm, personal and comforting. All any individual has to do, if they want images of their home taken off the 360 degree pictures of the UK’s cities, is to ask and it will be done. Privacy is restored at the touch of a button.

However, the fact remains that privacy was invaded in the first place. Google never asked anyone before it sent its cameras down Britain’s streets and put the pictures online for the world to see. The onus to act is placed on the individual homeowner.

Effectively Google’s rationale is the equivalent of campaigners who want to abolish organ donor cards and instead make donation the legal presumption. This too places the onus on individuals to opt out.

Either in the case of Google’s Street view or the suggested change to donor laws, such a shift ensures millions will remain ‘opted in’ either through ignorance or inactivity. Interestingly, the barometer of public opinion has ruled out any such switch in the case of donor cards even though it would save lives.

For Google, the Street View imbroglio is the second high profile battle in a month. It is also faced with aggressive financial demands from the Performing Rights Society for the posting by its subsidiary YouTube of music videos. It is an issue that goes to the heart of the tensions between new media’s free access and old media’s inherent need to charge at a point of sale.

Again Google/YouTube has effectively seized the high ground in the PR battle. By volunteering to take down the music videos and telling users why, it has mobilised the opinions of millions of its consumers against the PRS. The century-old organisation appears unfairly redolent of the Jurassic Age.

Each battle brings the forces of the old world into play against those of the new. Winning the PR battles will require a sophisticated mastery of both.


Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun

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