What Google learned from SOPA

March 1, 2012: 7:03 AM ET

With its "Good to Know" campaign, Google tried to take the debate out of the realm of lawyers and politicians and into the public square. Given that opposition is still vociferous, it's hard to know how effective it has been.

GoogleFORTUNE -- Google (GOOG) today implemented its controversial new privacy policy, which ties together more than ever before data gathered from users' online activities across all of its properties -- search, Gmail, Google Plus, Picasa, Google Maps, etc. -- to better target ads based on users' interests.

There is plenty of blowback, of course. But that might have been mitigated, at least somewhat, by Google's ad campaign, "Good to Know," which comprises cute line drawings to explain and promote the new policy. "Online privacy has never looked more cuddly," decided Advertising Age.

MORE: The story behind "Inside Facebook"

Or maybe privacy intrusion has never looked more cuddly is a better way to put it. Google of course is putting the best possible face on what is, after all, a highly controversial, possibly troubling move. But the campaign might be unique in terms of taking such actions directly to the people, circumventing lawyers, interest groups and politicians to the extent possible.

"Good to Know" was launched in Europe before the anti-SOPA campaign reached full volume, culminating in an online movement of people and companies that resulted in Web blackouts and other protests the led to the anti-piracy legislation's being shelved. Google took part, though only with a message on its site stating its opposition to the bill. But the company must have been pleased by the effort's success, since it offered further evidence that in many cases, direct-to-the-public publicity campaigns can be highly effective.

MORE: How StumbleUpon saved itself

Of course, that can work both ways, and for a lot of people, Google's new policy is a lot like SOPA in being anathema to the interests of Internet users. Some of the same groups and many of the same individuals that opposed SOPA also oppose this. But if such battles are increasingly fought in public, that might be a lot better than having them fought in Congress, the courts, or lawyer's offices, where interests other than the public interest are bound to hold more sway.

Join the Conversation
Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by WordPress.com VIP.