Way back in July of 2010, we started studying consumers’ level of trust in some of the more iconic technology brands in America, like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and others. In those early days, no company ranked higher than Google in our trust quotients. In the first six weeks of data collection (1,021 respondents), Google’s trust numbers were off the charts, with 34% of consumers viewing the company as Very Trustworthy and a miniscule 2% Very Untrustworthy. See the chart below:
Over the next seven months, numbers actually improved slightly. (There’s a reason we picked this timeframe, which we will explain later.) An aggregate 50,376 people identified Google as Very Trustworthy, 32% Somewhat Trustworthy. A small percentage of the numbers, 1%, moved from the Somewhat Untrustworthy to the Very Untrustworthy camp in that time.
But then we started to see significant erosion in Google’s numbers. Look at these numbers for the next 12 months:
In the year between March of 2011 and February of 2012, 26,349 people answered the Google question. The Very Trustworthy numbers dropped precipitously, with some portion of these people sliding into the Somewhat Trustworthy slot, while the Somewhat Untrustworthy and Very Untrustworthy numbers increased to 8% and 5% respectively.
But things got worse in the months to follow. On March 1st, 2012, Google announced sweeping, controversial changes to its privacy policies. Over the next 30 days, consumer reaction was even more severe:
During the month of March 2012, 5,870 people were polled. Very Trustworthy responses dropped from 21% to 18%, while Somewhat Trustworthy numbers held fairly steady. Somewhat and Very Untrustworthy responses, however, rose to 11% and 7% respectively.
Finally, let’s look at responses in the past week:
The most recent 2,292 respondents polled show a slight decrease of Very Trustworthy answers, falling from 18% to 17%. A larger group is now “Neutral,” perhaps representing a shift in the portion of Somewhat Trustworthy respondents we saw last March. The biggest move, though, can be seen among those who said Very Untrustworthy, a 5X jump from when we started this research and a full 3% jump from last year.
To help illustrate this change, let’s look at a time graph of Very Trustworthy responses dating back to the beginning of our research (it’s hard to show time points unless you’re actually using our software) but the image itself tells the story:
The graph above shows daily measures from July 2012 until today. The sample sizes got larger as our company grew, hence some of the noisy “bounces” you see on some early days (These are just functions of daily error margins). Still, the slide from left to right over the 30+ month period is unmistakable.
In fairness to Google, we should keep these numbers in context. Largely, people are much more likely to view the search behemoth as trustworthy, with 45% falling on the positive side of the line and 20% on the negative side, according to our most recent numbers. The largest group of people, at 35%, are merely Neutral. It would stand to reason that when a company like Google gets bigger, suspicion and resentment about their intentions will grow. For Google’s sake, let’s hope they can find a way to rebuild the trust they had just two years ago or at least stop the slide. Time will tell and so will we.