Google bringing the Assistant to tablets and Lollipop Android phones

Google is rolling out the Assistant to more devices. It will soon be available on Android tablets running Nougat and Marshmallow, and smartphones running Lollipop.

Tablets in the US running English will be the first to get access. However, a wide array of Android 5.0 smartphones (Lollipop) will get the Assistant: Those operating in English in major markets and in Spanish in the US, Mexico and Spain; and Lollipop smartphones in Italy, Japan, Germany, Brazil and Korea.

Google is pushing the Assistant out to more devices as the market becomes more competitive and AI development accelerates.

A July 2017 report from Verto Analytics found that 42 percent of US smartphone owners used virtual assistants, in the aggregate, on average 10 times per month. That translated into more than 70 million smartphone owners and almost 1 billion hours per month in the US. The numbers are likely somewhat higher now.

Personal Assistant Usage Numbers & Demographics

Source: Verto Analytics (5/17)

Siri was the most used (largest audience), but Cortana and Alexa were the fastest-growing assistants, according to Verto.

Separate research has found that virtual assistants are used much more frequently on smart speakers, which makes sense because of the general absence of screens: almost three uses per day vs. less than one for smartphones.

Coming to terms with fake reviews

Consumers overwhelmingly expect the reviews they peruse on Amazon, Yelp, Google and other review sites to be trustworthy, neutral and objective. But this reasonable expectation is frequently thwarted by the efforts of aggressive marketers who pay third parties to create phony reviews in exchange for compensation or incentivize existing good customers to leave reviews with discounts or free products or services.

These deceptive practices — termed “opinion spam” or “sock puppetry” — are a form of information pollution with multiple victims. Opinion spam blinds the consumer to the truth and poisons the reputation of the review site where the fake review appears. When detected, it may subject the marketer and/or opinion spammer to criminal and civil penalties.

Unfortunately, opinion spam — despite the best efforts of review sites to control it — appears to be a permanent, intractable feature of the e-commerce and local business information ecosystem.

Not that reviews sites aren’t trying. In 2015, Amazon filed a lawsuit against a company that offered false four- and five-star reviews for product pages. Later that year, Amazon sued over 1,100 sellers of fake reviews who allegedly posted reviews in exchange for money. And in early 2016, it sued three of its own vendors for the same practice.

Later that year, Amazon changed its Community Guidelines to prohibit reviews solicited by marketers in exchange for incentives such as discounts, freebies or other rewards. Such “incentivized reviews” had hitherto been permitted by the service. These steps — plus the development of algorithms targeting fake reviews — are all intended to clean up its messy marketplace.

Google — which for decades has warred against SEO spammers — in 2016 warned product review bloggers to disclose any compensation-based relationships with vendors and to nofollow any links to sites with whom such a relationship exists. These steps were taken to align the company’s practices better with US law, particularly Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which outlaws deceptive advertising.

And Yelp — which estimated in 2013 that between 20 percent and 25 percent of its 70 million reviews were “suspicious” — has been forced to resort to undercover sting operations involving “decoy accounts” to keep its legions of opinion spammers at bay.

The siren song of sockpuppetry

As a marketer, you’re fully aware of how critical online reviews are to your business. You may have already been tempted by a consultant or social media agency to “go over to the dark side” and start posting some complimentary reviews about your own stuff on Amazon, Google or Yelp. Here are some typical arguments you might hear — along with reasons you need to resist the temptation:

‘Everybody (including your competition) is doing it.’

Hypercompetitive consumer categories appear to be highly attractive to opinion spam. According to an anonymous former Amazon opinion spammer interviewed by Digiday earlier this year, review requests for “mobile phone accessories, Bluetooth devices, and sometimes baby products” are especially frequent, but any popular product category will likely attract opinion spam because spam “follows the money.”

It’s very difficult to counsel marketers who sincerely believe that they are the target of opinion spam (either positive or negative) that they should not resort to the same tactics used by their competitors, especially those who’ve already listened to the second argument, which is:

‘If you’re smart about it, you’ll never get caught.’

Unfortunately, there’s more truth to this statement than there should be because every move made by the review sites to clean things up is met by increasingly sophisticated workarounds from opinion spammers.

For example, when Amazon forbade compensation-based reviews in 2016, opinion spammers reportedly shifted their tactics to those less easily detectable (e.g., by offering to recompense the reviewer after the purchase of the reviewed item or by telling the reviewer to simply buy the product and return it within Amazon’s 30-day return window).

The truth is that if one carefully studies the weak points of each review site, is exceptionally stealthy and takes care to hide one’s tracks, it’s possible to insert opinion spam into the conversational chain at will without fear of suffering any short-term negative consequences.

The long-term scenario, however, is much less friendly to the prospective opinion spammer. Algorithms — some proprietary to the review sites, others available as third-party tools — are getting better at flagging opinion spam, using a mix of linguistic, behavioral and relational signals to zero in on the offender.

Additionally, federal and state public entities are growing increasingly active in policing bad actors. So while the odds of being caught in 2017 remain low, they’re bound to increase as technology and law enforcement begin to catch up to opinion spammers. Remember, soliciting fake reviews is illegal — are a couple of five-star reviews really worth breaking the law?

What’s a marketer to do?

Opinion spam is a part of life. But as discussed above, it’s foolish and risky to fight it directly by resorting to the same tactics as your opponents. So what can a marketer do?

Make full use of white-hat methods to encourage reviews.

Review quantity and review recency count, and there are many things you can do to increase your flow of reviews from actual customers. Here are some methods for encouraging customers to review your wares that will never get you into trouble:

    Emailing recent customers with a request to review the product or service, along with a link to the location where the review should appear.Including a card in each product you ship that asks the recipient to hop onto Amazon.com to post a review.Posting signs at your physical place of business notifying consumers that reviews are appreciated (albeit not rewarded/incentivized).

Emphasize the undeniably valid reviews you’ve got.

One unintended byproduct of the current state of online review unreliability is the increased importance of vetted review sites such as Consumer Reports. Many competitive CPG verticals (e.g., cars, cameras, computers, software and so on) have bona fide review sites associated with them whose reputations are high due to the fact that they are not open – and will never be open — to outside evaluators.

So, don’t leave your product’s reputation in the exclusive (and anonymous) hands of internet reviewers; get it into the hands of pro reviewers whose publications have integrity.

Inform on bad actors.

If you see something, say something. Sure, nobody likes to be thought of as a “snitch,” a “fink” or a “rat,” but if you have reason to believe that your competition is resorting to opinion spam, report them to the review site (Believe me, they’d do the same to you at the drop of a hat).

Remember, you and the review site — be it Amazon, Google or Yelp — are allies in the battle against opinion spam. If you’re going to go this route, it’s ideal to provide the best forensic evidence you can obtain, so make use of sites such as Fakespot.com and ReviewSkeptic.com, which let you paste in a URL from a review site (or the text of the review itself) in order to evaluate the probability that it’s real or fake.

Adopt a responsive consumer relations posture that responds quickly to reviews — both good and bad.

While some online consumers will credulously accept any review they stumble across, many are sophisticated and discerning enough to realize that no business is perfect and not every customer is perfectly happy. If negative reviews appear on your page, acknowledge them and open up a channel to the complainant in order to make things right.

Being active and responsive in the review space will be seen as proof that you’re paying attention, you care, and above all, you’re human. These qualities are important — arguably more important than ever in an information ecosystem in which “real” and “fake” are, even with the best available anti-spam algorithms, often maddeningly difficult to tell apart.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Report: Smart speaker owners increasingly using them instead of typing or swiping

Unlike VR headsets or wearables, smart speakers are rapidly emerging as a mass market technology platform. The latest to document relatively high satisfaction and usage of these devices is call-tracking and analytics company Invoca.

Earlier this year, Invoca surveyed 1,000 people in the US who own an Amazon Echo or Google Home device. The survey asked questions about current behavior and a range of hypothetical scenarios.

The company found that people use smart speakers more frequently over time, with 89 percent using them daily. Here’s a more detailed usage breakdown:

33 percent of owners said they used the devices more than five times daily.28 percent used them four to five times a day.24 percent used them two to three times a day.

In addition, 58 percent of respondents said that they used assistants to “accomplish tasks they used to do through typing or swiping.” So there’s some substitution going on, and there’s apparently an appetite for more.

By some estimates, Amazon controls 70 to 75 percent of the smart speaker market in the US. But the Invoca survey found that people were open to devices from other companies not yet in the market, especially Facebook. Nearly 60 percent (58 percent) of survey respondents said they would potentially buy a voice assistant from the social network if it sold one. (Facebook is rumored to be working on such a device.)

Invoca also reports that 73 percent of respondents said they’d made a purchase through a voice assistant, and 39 percent said interaction with these devices had influenced purchases made elsewhere. (I’m skeptical of the accuracy of the 73 percent figure.)

One of the more interesting findings: Invoca also discovered some receptiveness to ads on these devices, provided users had a degree of control or they were personalized in some fashion. Currently, there are no ads on Google Home or Alexa devices, though promotional audio messages are likely to arrive at some point. Earlier this year, Amazon shut down such an attempt by third-party analytics company VoiceLabs.

The report also explored tasks or activities that were being pursued by device owners in several vertical contexts: banking, travel and healthcare. Here were the top three smart speaker objectives or activities reported in each category:

Travel

    Inquire about hotels.Check flight status.Purchase or book something.

Banking

    Check a balance.Pay a bill.Track spending.

Healthcare

    Ask about symptoms.Ask about health/diet tips.Connect with hospital or doctor.

Survey respondents were not without some criticisms and complaints, mostly having to do with being comprehended, the length of conversations they could have and the complexity of tasks they could execute.

About 90 percent of owners said that if they’re unable to get what they’re seeking from the smart speaker they turn to search. And 76 percent said that they would like to be able to connect with a human through the device, as a backup, if it was unable to answer their question.

After the smoke from holiday 2017 clears, we could discover as many as 50 or 60 million smart speakers installed in US households.

Google aims to make apps for Google Assistant more functional and discoverable

Today Google announced a number of updates and improvements to help make third party apps for Google Assistant more functional and easier for users to discover. It’s also adding new capabilities for developers.

Developers can now build Assistant apps in Spanish, Portuguese and Indian English. For the UK, Google announced the availability of transactional capabilities (purchases, reservations or appointments). For the app directory, Google is adding new sections (what’s new and what’s trending). And there will now be an autocomplete feature to help suggest apps to users.

Right now the app directory is relatively hidden and I suspect only a tiny percentage of users know it exists. However, within the directory Google is also creating new subcategories for apps that are more task-specific. The company uses the example of “Order Food” or “View a Menu” in the category “Food & Drink.” There will also be new badges for family friendly apps.

Google is also trying to facilitate more natural app discovery — and this is probably going to be more common than other methods — through “implicit invocation” or “implicit discovery.” This is a form of app recommendations, when Google believes that a specific app can answer a user question or fulfill a need, or when the user’s verbal command is the “action phrase” for the Assistant app itself:

Implicit invocation occurs when users invoke your app without using its name. This type of invocation occurs when users tell the Google Assistant to do something that’s similar to the action invocation phrase for one of your configured intents, or when the user is in a context where your app would be appropriate.

There’s a very SEO-like (“voice optimization”) approach to getting your app recognized and invoked by Google in this “implicit” scenario.

Most compelling of these new features is the introduction of what Google calls “multi-surface conversations.” This is essentially Google Home send to phone.

An interaction begins on a Google Home device and is then sent to a smartphone for completion. The example Google provides is food ordering that begins on Google Home, with the payment transaction concluding on a smartphone. For relatively obvious reasons, this could be a boon to travel and e-commerce transactions on Google Home.

Google is also enabling personalization (preferences), daily updates, notifications and directory analytics.

Integrating third party capabilities into the Google Assistant has the potential to be extremely useful. Apple’s Siri is doing this and, obviously, so is Amazon Alexa with “skills” (most of which are currently worthless). But the problem of “app discovery” is even more acute in the voice context than it is in smartphone app stores.

This is why “implicit discovery” holds so much promise. But Google can also do a great deal more to surface developer apps and content within the Google Assistant and online.

Voice search: Content may be king, but context is queen in the new voice-first world

In 2016, Google said that 20 percent of all mobile queries were voice searches. Since that time, the number of virtual assistants in US households has continued to swell, with tens of millions of voice-enabled home devices projected to be in use.

Voice as a primary search interface — beyond mobile phones — is a reality. Marketers need to rapidly iterate on their mobile-first strategies, to adapt to the voice-first marketplace. And as the aptly titled e-book released today [registration required] suggests, voice search changes everything.

I sat down with the book’s author, Yext VP of Industry Insights Duane Forrester, to discuss the landscape of voice search, how it will impact the business of search marketing, and what marketers can do to prepare for this evolution in search user interfaces.

“Voice engagement is the most likely scenario that will challenge the biggest players in search for supremacy.”

Michelle Robbins: What inspired you to put this e-book together?

Duane Forrester: The work we do at Yext is focused on helping businesses understand what data they can control, and empowering them with ways to manage that data. So from that point of view, there was a lot of support for exploring this developing space. Personally, I’ve always been an early adopter. The last decade of my life I’ve been fortunate enough to see the leading edge of technology up close and interact with it personally, so as “voice” developed to what we have today, I’ve been engaged and watching its progress.

MR: The major players in the space have been established. Do you see room for any other competitors to enter the voice arena?

DF: Absolutely. There is a boom happening in China right now with dozens of new companies entering the smart speaker space. While most won’t survive, it’s inevitable we’ll see new devices reach our shores next year, driving prices down and adoption up.

Most of that expansion will be white-labeled products (Google Assistant built into a Samsung TV, for example), but from the consumer’s point of view, it’ll be less about buying because of the embedded assistant and more about brand awareness around specific products. People don’t buy the Samsung TV because of Google Assistant (or Siri, or Cortana, or IBM, etc.), they buy it because Samsung makes excellent televisions. The voice assistant is a nice addition. That’s our immediate future. Over time, however, this could change if one or more of the leaders make significant technology breakthroughs that bring obvious differentiation and improvements.

MR: Is there anything holding back even greater adoption of voice-enabled devices?

DF: We’re starting to see the end of people’s reluctance to speak to their devices. This was a major factor in adoption over the last five years. Couple that with less than stellar services and results, and adoption was predictably sluggish — right up until Amazon landed in millions of living rooms around the world.

The biggest factor in voice adoption remains time. As services surpass an accuracy rate of 98%+ and consumer upgrade devices, or have their first contact with new devices that are voice enabled, the growth will continue. Voice will conquer all.

MR: How can marketers, and search marketers in particular, shift from a ‘content is king’ focus to competitively prepare for the ‘context is queen’ world and surface as the one primary voice result?

DF: The beauty of this is clear. All the investment that’s been poured into content continues to pay dividends in a voice-first world. If anything, in order to truly get to the context-first scenarios we have today, you need deep, detailed, rich content. But even here, context plays a role. If the request is for the temperature, the platform being engaged will determine location as part of the relevancy factoring. The answer (let’s say “72 degrees”) in any other context might seem “thin” by nature. But as an answer to “What’s the temperature outside?,” it’s a perfect fit.

A more complex scenario might look like “Who is Harry Potter?” and “What is Harry Potter?” The former should bring back an answer about a fictional person, while the later should elicit a response about a fictional series about a boy wizard, etc. The answers for the latter would be deeper, and pull from richer “answers” provided by websites.

To be included in the “spoken answer” column, we have no set best practices from the engines to follow, but we do have some common best practices we know they respond to for things like the Answer Boxes. And increasingly, it’s those answer box contents that are being spoken aloud to inform consumer queries.

As for specific tactics people can employ, here’s a short list. This is in addition to the usual quality content production and SEO best practices.

    Adopt a long tail/conversational phrase approach to targeting what to produce content around.Build out detailed answers to common (and even uncommon) questions related to your products and services.Use Schema to mark up your content (where appropriate).Clean up your own house — be sure crawlers can find your content.Make sure your site is mobile-friendly — not really an option these days.Make security a priority — becoming more of a trust signal.

“A picture is worth a thousand words”

MR: What additional innovations in voice are coming into play?

DF: If you’ve shopped via a voice device, you’ve encountered an area that will improve significantly when visuals are added. Ask the system to buy a blue sweater, and you immediately realize without being able to see the sweater, you’re missing a lot of information needed to make an informed purchase.

This is where visual search comes into play, and it’s here now as the logical next step from voice search. We see initial products from Amazon in the market now (Show and Spot), and I expect to see more companies fielding visually-enabled voice devices soon. In terms of e-commerce, this expands the usefulness of current content investments like product videos.

MR: What kind of technology investments should marketers be making to address this new playing field?

DF: Things that were optional even just a couple years ago, are no longer optional. Being mobile-friendly is a requirement. Being secure is rapidly becoming a differentiator. Marking up your content is no longer a nice-to-have. Every day adoption of those technical items grows, which means the playing field is changing. If a search engine suggests a protocol is worth using, it’s worth paying attention.

Things like Schema markup help an engine grow trust in your website and content, so take advantage of that. Being secure shows an investment in protecting consumers, again an area the engines favor and actively support. And if you really want to walk a mile in your customer’s shoes, to really learn what their journey is like, you’ll buy the main voice-enabled devices on the market today. Set them up and use them all day, every day. This practice will uncover new features and highlight new opportunities for you to align with the customer’s journey.

MR: What kind of personnel investments should organizations be making to effectively compete in a voice-first world?

DF: It’s highly likely that a business already has the skill sets they need on hand. If they have an SEO person or team, they’re off to an excellent start. To truly take advantage of new environments like voice and visual search, though, you need to have someone who has a broad understanding of emerging opportunities, has the reach to influence across and within your company, and can offer guidance based on experiences in discrete areas. That’s the role of a Digital Knowledge Manager (DKM).

The DKM can help ensure all assets in a company are aligned to best effect, while also keeping the company up to speed on emerging technologies. From the top, it’s the DKM that guides. From a more tactical level, it’s likely a technically proficient SEO aligning efforts across research, content development and deployment. That combined effort can help a company get started and take a leadership position in their verticals.

Join us at SMX West this March in San Jose, where we’ll feature industry leaders sharing tips and tactics for search marketing success in voice search, local and mobile SEO and much more!

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Amazon Q3 ad revenues surpass $1 billion, up roughly 2x from early 2016

Yesterday, Amazon announced third-quarter earnings. The company reported sales growth of 34 percent to $43.7 billion. A year ago, Amazon reported $32.7 billion in sales.

For the purposes of this post, the noteworthy part is Amazon’s “other” revenue, which is basically advertising. Buried at the bottom of the Net Sales chart in the press release was this line item:

“Other” is defined by Amazon to include “sales not otherwise included above, such as certain advertising services and our co-branded credit card agreements.” It’s a safe bet, then, that ad sales for the quarter were $1+ billion, which represented 58 percent year-over-year growth. Since Q2 of 2016 ad sales have basically doubled.

On the earnings call, Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky said, “Advertising revenue continues to grow very quickly and its year-over-year growth rate is actually faster than the other revenue line item that you see there [in the ‘other’ category].”

The fact that Amazon is now on par with or surpasses Google in product search is not lost on retailers and brand advertisers. Reflective of the company’s intensifying effort to attract ad revenues from search marketers and agencies, Amazon made its first appearance at SMX East in New York City this week to promote Amazon Marketing Services advertising offerings.

Google Assistant now offering a wide range of games for kids and families

The battle of the smart speakers and home assistants is in full swing. And both Amazon and Google think that gaming and fun will help provide a competitive edge.

Amazon introduced Echo Buttons, which enable families to play Alexa-based games together, in September. Today Google announced a trove of games for families and kids: “[T]he Google Assistant now has more than 50 new games, activities and stories designed for families with kids.” They include trivia, musical chairs, storytelling and more.

Games for Google Assistant are available on Home devices, smartphones and other devices where the Assistant is available. This is also where Google seeks to compete, as a platform across more devices (“ambient computing”) than Amazon can offer.

Google has also made it possible to personalize the Assistant for kids under 13. Home devices can recognize up to six different voices. Accordingly, kids can use the same devices as their parents, but the Assistant will recognize the child’s voice and offer different options and experiences.

Parental controls are powered by “Family Link.” It’s an app that gives parents the ability to manage their kids’ Android device experiences.

Target expands voice-commerce relationship with Google to battle Amazon

Google announced nationwide expansion of its Google Express relationship with Target. Users in the Continental US will now be able to buy from Target through the Google Assistant and receive Google Express delivery. The voice-commerce relationship extends to Google Home devices.

Features and capabilities are nearly identical to those announced in August with Walmart. And while the deal isn’t yet fully operational, ultimately you’ll be able to:

order and reorder from Target with free shipping on orders exceeding $35.opt in for personalized recommendations (as an existing Target customer) and a “quick re-order experience based on past Target purchases.”shop on any device (including Android TV) where the Google Assistant is available.

Google is doing battle with Amazon on multiple fronts, and so are its Google Express retail partners. Google sees voice-based shopping from an array of branded retailers as a point of differentiation vs. Amazon. By the same token, retailers need to make themselves accessible through virtual assistants and smart speakers. There’s an alignment of interests, creating an anti-Amazon alliance of sorts.

A recent ad campaign for Google Express promotes the notion of “all your favorite stores in one place.” In addition to Target and Walmart, the service offers access to Kohl’s, Joann, Sur la Table, Walgreens, Staples, Toys R Us and numerous others.

Target is a top 10 e-commerce site, but it badly lags Amazon, and it has no voice-commerce capability today. It’s wise for Target to work with Google to leverage the latter’s distribution. However, the question in my mind is: Will Google retail partners like Target benefit in a meaningful way from these deals, or will they eventually turn into little more than suppliers for Google Express?

Echo and Home will probably have to tell you they're always listening — in Europe

A number of Google Home Mini devices that were distributed to members of the press had a defect that caused them to record everything being said around them. This discovery renewed privacy concerns surrounding smart speakers as surreptitious listening devices in our homes.

The problem was first discovered by Android Police. Once being notified, Google investigated and fixed the issue:

The Google Home team is aware of an issue impacting a small number of Google Home Mini devices that could cause the touch control mechanism to behave incorrectly. We immediately rolled out a software update on October 7 to mitigate the issue.

Who is affected: People who received an early release Google Home Mini device at recent Made by Google events. Pre-ordered Google Home Mini purchases aren’t affected.

As a general matter, Google Home and Amazon Alexa devices must “listen” to surrounding conversations to capture “wake words” (e.g.,”Alexa,” “OK Google”) that activate them. Some privacy advocates have sounded alarms about this and expressed concern that these devices could be abused by unscrupulous law enforcement or other malevolent state actors (see Orwell’s Telescreen).

In a well-publicized criminal case in Arkansas, local prosecutors sought recordings on an Amazon Echo in a murder investigation. Amazon fought to prevent authorities from getting access to these recordings without a warrant. The defendant in the case ultimately consented to the release of any stored data, so the warrant issue was never formally ruled on by a court.

As Internet of Things devices proliferate, privacy warnings about personal data collection will intensify. It’s very likely that there will be more than 30 million smart speakers in US homes by year-end. Google and Amazon are competitively discounting and aggressively marketing them. Google’s $49 Home Mini was introduced as a low-cost answer to the Amazon Echo Dot, which Amazon just discounted to be $5 cheaper than the Mini.

These devices are also widely available in Europe, which raises the question of how they will be addressed under the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) taking effect in May 2018. Millions of smart speakers will be installed in European homes by then.

In order to process “personal data,” companies must obtain opt-in consent from users:

Consent must be clear and distinguishable from other matters and provided in an intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language. It must be as easy to withdraw consent as it is to give it.​ Explicit consent is required only for processing sensitive personal data — in this context, nothing short of “opt in” will suffice. However, for non-sensitive data, “unambiguous” consent will suffice.

It’s safe to say that these devices will be “processing sensitive personal data” and that explicit consent will be required in every case.

There’s no explicit mention of smart speakers in the GDPR documentation. However, artificial intelligence is addressed to some degree in Article 22 (“Automated individual decision-making, including profiling”), which says:

The data subject shall have the right not to be subject to a decision based solely on automated processing, including profiling, which produces legal effects concerning him or her or similarly significantly affects him or her [unless explicit consent is provided].

Most consumer-facing AI technologies, including smart speakers and self-driving cars, will require explicit opt-in consent in Europe. For Echo or Home, it might be as simple as a verbal statement played upon setup, which asks for the owner to OK use of his or her personal data. Alternatively, there might need to be ongoing or periodic disclosures and consent.

There’s currently a lack of clarity about what will be specifically required from smart speaker makers. We’ll likely see some guidance, however, from the EU or NGOs in the next several months. The consumer question will be: how do I feel about a third-party recording device in my home?

Can Google Express help traditional retail level the playing field with Amazon?

Google Express has kicked off a new ad campaign called “Need anything from the store?” which promotes it as a delivery service for “all your stores in one place,” according to an Advertising Age report. The effort shows people of all ages and walks of life in the often-painful process of describing a product for a largely offscreen friend or family member who has offered to pick the items up at the store.

Among the stores offering products through Google Express are Walmart, Costco and Target. The effort aims to level the playing field with Amazon — for both the retailers and Google — offering consumers both the immediacy and choice to which they’ve grown accustomed.

For the retailers, it’s a bit of the old “enemy of my enemy is my friend” concept. Ad Age characterized the campaign and the collection of Google Express partners (37 in all) as an “anti-Amazon alliance,” which was sort of announced during Advertising Week in New York. Whole Foods is currently available on Google Express, but the Amazon-owned grocery chain probably won’t remain there over time.

Most of the retailers working with Google Express have their own e-commerce initiatives, including Walmart, Target and other major retailers, but Google Express provides them with next-day delivery. A robust omnichannel capability is critical for success, and having stores still offers an advantage. Indeed, somewhat paradoxically, the presence of physical retail stores actually helps drive e-commerce transactions.

Data also show that so-called “Centennials” or “Generation Z” actually prefer to shop in stores vs. online in larger numbers than their aging millennial brethren.

What’s very interesting in all of this is what might be called the dance of the brands. In the ad, Google is positioned as subservient to the retail brands; after all, Google isn’t “one of your stores.” However, for the initiative to succeed, Google Express needs to become a branded shopping destination that is top of mind for consumers — just like Amazon.

Google must thus walk something of a tightrope, promoting consumer awareness while not subordinating and relegating its retail partners to simple providers of commodities. The effort also raises the issue of the relationship between Google Shopping and Google Express going forward. Shopping is primarily online with offline inventory information; Express is primarily about offline stores but with e-commerce functionality. But that analysis doesn’t really provide an answer.

Despite the fact that roughly 92 percent of retail purchases happen in stores, comScore and others have been hyping the growth of e-commerce — at the expense of traditional retail — for years. As indicated, however, e-commerce and offline stores are “synergistic.”

Yet e-commerce is clearly dominated by Amazon. So much so that it’s Amazon . . . and everyone else.

According to a recent report from Slice Intelligence, Amazon drove 41 percent of online shopping in Q1 2017. In 2016, it was responsible for more than 50 percent of e-commerce sales growth.

The remaining nine sites on the Slice online top 10, including Best Buy, Target, Walmart, Macy’s and Nordstrom, each had less than 3 percent of Q1 online retail sales. In other words, the remaining retailers, most of which are traditional stores, collectively generated only a little more than what Amazon brought in on its own.

This illustrates the daunting challenge for the anti-Amazon Alliance.