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In Google we trust: But why?

Google I/O: 5 lessons

For a few years, virtually all Internet advertising revenue has been dominated by two companies — Facebook and Google. But the companies could hardly be more different.

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Google is the master of the web at large and controls the world’s most popular mobile operating system. However, it knows relatively little about our social relationships and has not been able to launch a strong social network despite several attempts.

Facebook, meanwhile, is master of the walled garden, or rather, several of the massive ones it now owns. It knows a great deal about the users of Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, all services with over a billion members.

Read also: Google I/O 2018: Key takeaways on Duplex, AI, privacy, Android | How has Google dodged data privacy issue? It’s the ROI | Two important words you didn’t hear during Google I/O

And the two companies have vastly different reputations. Even before the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, far fewer U.S. consumers trusted Facebook than Google according to a survey conducted last fall by The Verge and Reticle Research. However, some of that lack of trust may be endemic to social media as Twitter scored even more poorly than Facebook. More recently, a Reuters poll also found that Facebook is lagging in trust.

And when Brian X. Chen of The New York Times recently reviewed the data that both Facebook and Google had on him, he found the nature of the Facebook collection more disturbing despite Google having far more data. (ZDNet recently made a similar request of Apple.)

Nowadays, much of the trust discrepancy might focus on what Facebook has done wrong and how it is trying to fix it. But there is also much to be said about what Google has done right on a corporate image level beyond the specifics of the data it collects and how it uses it. Not long after Google established trust in the digital world by routing people to their online destination, it reinforced that trust in the physical world with Google Maps. It has also engendered trust with Gmail and Google Photos by providing generous storage allocations that help ensure that consumers will long be able to access their email and, even more personally, photos.

This goodwill has already paid dividends to Google as consumers were willing to look past the privacy foibles of the original Google Glass, which admittedly never affected a mass audience the way that Facebook’s information mishaps have.

At its I/O conference, it was clear Google is looking to insert itself more deeply into our lives than ever before and, in the process, extend its trust leverage further than at any recent time. As the company noted, it has long placed value on saving consumers time. With Google Duplex, AIs will be able to interact with other individuals in our lives. While this will be on a simple basis to begin, some in the Google orbit are already claiming that Duplex passes the famed Turing test for artificial intelligence as being indistinguishable from humans, at least within a specific domain.

Representatives have since noted that Google Duplex will reveal that it is an agent, but Duplex still gives its intelligent agent far more leeway than we have given to previous assistants. Google is also betting that we will be willing to accept its help in finishing sentences in the emails we write as we write, a big step up from the word completion used every day by users of its keyboard on Android and iOS.


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Back in the physical world, yet another example that extends the trust relationship Google has built with Maps is adding visual cues for scenarios where GPS is neither specific nor speedy enough to provide visual cues. An excellent example that the company showed at I/O was emerging from a metro transit station like New York’s subway system. It can often be difficult for a maps app or the human using it to get quickly oriented regarding traditional directional indicators (north, west, etc.) and street signs can sometimes be obscured or missing.

In response to this problem, it is particularly revealing that Google would entertain the idea that folks would follow an animated guide around corners as Alice followed a white rabbit. You can be sure Google has many other adventures waiting for us down the rabbit hole.

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