SEO

Google wants to know all about YOU

Convenience or Conspiracy? You Decide.

What once started as a convenience for users has, over time, started to sound more like some Orwellian nightmare stalking us at our every turn. When this all began search was relatively sterile and innocuous. We type in a few words and get back a bunch of blue links… 10 of them at a time. But that wasn’t enough. Google wanted to know us even better. Coddle and direct us to what we really want.

So what’s the big deal? Well, could be nothing. Or it could be a rather problematic trend among the sinews of evolution for our kind. Depends on who you talk to.

Google Behavioural1 Google wants to know all  about YOU

Let’s Get Personal…

While I could easily eat up the equivalent of a book on the topic, we shall try and hit just a few of the high level concepts of where we’ve come to in recent years.

Of the stated goals at Google a deep, broad and comprehensive personalization as been top of the food chain for many years now. But what exactly is personalization anyway? It mostly falls under what is known as implicit and explicit user feedback (behavioural data) and can include;

  • Search History
  • Surfing History
  • Implicit actions (assumptions)
  • Explicit actions (active participation)
  • Geo-localized data
  • Application focus (technology you use)

How much does this really affect the SERP presentation? Last we checked there was still some reasonable flux, but that should be changing. To this point personalization has been on a ‘user group’ level, new technology means they can get more granular with that.

User Profiling

Next we can go a bit further. With Google multitude of services from Gmail to Profiles, they have increasingly locked users into a loop which they can further glean information from. They can look at associations between you and your various online entities from social to business and personal websites.

A few years back there were some interesting patents on user profiling (see; Social networks are Open for profiling ) that went into quite some detail as to the level of information they’d consider collecting including;

  • Search and surfing history (again)
  • Sentiment – interests and non-interests
  • Demographic information (age, employment etc..)
  • Geo-localizations
  • Friend connections (aka FriendRank)

And these data points can be used to categorize users by;

  • Common behaviour
  • Similar groups (memberships)
  • Similar profile data
  • Content shared

Once more, as with earlier personalization, they tend to group us more so than a granular person-by-person approach. New processing power will again enable more of this.

Google personalized Search SEJ Google wants to know all  about YOU

 

Enhancing the Social Graph

From that point we have seen the rise of the Google user profile. From here they have been able to gather even more data including;

  1. user acquaintance data
  2. user group data
  3. user media data
  4. user options data
  5. and other user data

Now, let’s stop there a moment. What was the point of all of this profiling? Does Google want to make sure they buy you that special something you’ve longed for, on Christmas? Highly unlikely. While many of these technologies have organic search implications, there is never any shortage of interest towards tighter targeting of Ads, their real money maker.

Now, back to the social graph. They have now extended this to seek out not only Google data but any social data they can get they’re hands on. For more on the social graph API and examples;

The Social Graph API makes information about the public connections between people on the Web easily available and useful for developers. Developers can query this public information to offer their users dramatically streamlined "add friends" functionality and other useful features.” – Google Social Graph

  • Site Connections – entering URLs to your (or competitors/targets) blogs and profile pages let U see social connections
  • My Connections – enter URLs, and it looks for social connections; who you link to and who links to you

This of course has also lead to the world of Realtime and Social Search as well. But never forget, there is always a targeting element to all of this. At the end of the day it really does creep me out.

Holy Trinity of Behavioural Targeting

Guess what? We’ve only scratched the surface. Because there is so much more going on here than we really notice. As it has been said in the past; behavioural targeting is one small step from behavioural modification. Sure, this might be a bit thick on the tin foil, but worth considering none-the-less.

Let us take what we know and start to look at the full range of data gathering points now in place;

  • Your computer – tracking online actions and interests

  • Your Mobile Phone – also now helping to flesh out the profile

  • You TV – Google TV now allows for more behavioural data (see; Google TV; it’s all about the data )

And people are complaining about them scooping a little Wi-fi action? Wow. Seems the privacy advocates have missed the proverbial boat and not done well connecting the dots either. Is this limited to Google? Of course not. It is prevalent everywhere. But Google has far more reach and data access than most, which is why this is (potentially) troubling.

Or is it? As a geek I am fascinated with the technologies and more than a little jealous I can’t access this kind of data gold mine. But that is the geek in me. As a parent, a fellow human being, I can see where all of this could be more than just a little concerning. It’s a love hate kind of thing.

Google Behavioural2 Google wants to know all  about YOU

 

Things are getting weird

And so before I leave, let us consider recent statements from Google’s Eric Schmidt;

I actually think most people don’t want Google to answer their questions, they want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.

“(…) we know roughly who you are, roughly what you care about, roughly who your friends are.” (source; WSJ )

Essentially, in the future, we will be able to allow Google to think for us. Sounds appetizing don’t it? And just for fun, since we’re going there, seems that Google has also invested in a company that processes DNA. Maybe someday they will know us all right down to the molecular level huh?

So I shall leave it to you, dear reader; do you believe Google (or any powerful company) knowing you better is a good thing? Will it make your life more convenient? Or is this something that has the potential for abuse if it goes out of control and is accepted as the norm?

Sound off in the comments!

 Google wants to know all  about YOU
David Harry is an SEO and IR geek that runs Reliable SEO, blogs on the Fire Horse Trail and is the head geek at the SEO Training Dojo.

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24 thoughts on “Google wants to know all about YOU

  1. First off, thanks for an interesting read. After reading this there is a few things that comes to mind

    (1) Do we in the end believe that as humans we have control over our own thoughts and destinies? if so the amount of targeting a company does should not have too much influence on us. As for Google being able to tell us what to do next instead of just answering our questions – sometimes it could be very helpful… with a few filters in place.

    (2) Are some systems self regulatory? As more and more people become internet/tech savy i believe that the behaviour of large companies like Google will also adapt as it becomes about securing/holding on to marketshare. Infringing too much on peoples privacy will ultimately hurt them.

    (3) There is a responsibility with parents, teachers etc. to make kids aware of the impact of sharing too much online. As much as technology is a part of peoples lives, it is also important that people learn that they are in control of the technology, not the other way around.

    Perhaps one day someone clever will bring us a service that allows us to ‘slap’ then they are annoying us in any way. Imagine if an advertiser was clearly targeting you with a message you don’t like or don’t want to see, you could then block them for the future across a myriad of devices, and perhaps even share that with your social sphere. If ‘slaps’ like that was then made public we would probably start to see a change in behaviour among advertisers as well.

    Personally i would love to be able to block 90% of the unrelevant advertising currently served through different media and have it replaced with quality information that would actually enhance my life and experience.

  2. What a fantastic article. Truly, well done.
    In a day and age when the Illuminati is sounding more and more real, I must say you touch on some great points. I have thought for a long time the Internet would be the end of privacy. and not just on a peer to peer level, but giant corporations infiltrating our daily habits. It is a little alaming to say the least when I type 2 letters into Google search and bam! exactly what I am looking for pops up. Who do you think are the purveyors of this instant knowledge??!

  3. There are two reasons we don’t want Google to use our data:
    1) We don’t want them abusing it (e.g., selling our search history to employers)
    2) We just feel weird about an impersonal entity ‘knowing’ more about us than our close friends.

    We are OK with them having our data, as long as the above two criteria are satisfied.

    By letting the free market of private information reign, Google would of course gravitate towards having more information about us (conflicting with #2), and having more control over our information (conflicting with #1).

    I’m afraid the only way to prevent this Orwellian nightmare is through regulation. The challenge is unifying our definition of privacy. Your definition of the 2 criteria I outlined are different from mine.

  4. Love reading about very important things and you could really made me enjoy evry single information about this ! great post and i did like many remarks about this topic :) so thank you for sharing it

  5. It is worrying that individual companies like facebook and Google are collecting huge amounts of data on us. The different companies specialise in collecting slightly different info. Just be glad they don’t all join forces and share the data with each other.

    As for you’re last point, I’m not sure I want a Google Maps of my genome on display!

  6. First of all, it’s a really shaking to us. This could be mean that we could no longer store information on the net especially financing transactions as Goolge may know it earlier than others may. While Google successfully build a highly reputation whom anyone can trust to but as you said technology evolved to the higher level and that Google might know us *to the molecular level; therefore, security isn’t guaranteed. Google might see our financial transaction on the net so they would know all personal details especially our banking and checking accounts. The question is, how can we trust them this thing if they are just only humans? Humans can make mistake and who knows Google staff would sell our information to one of the biggest syndicate on the net? Ohhhh I’m thinking too much but I can’t help not to think that way though…

  7. In the future, governments will start to have more control of our lives, not Google. It may sound frightening but that will be the norm. Every bit of information about ourselves will be on a database. Much like in the movie, Total Recall.

  8. There is also the Hotpot product that is able to mine your previous search history and it will adjust your Google Places results based on your previous recommendations… pity they killed Google 411 otherwise they would already know what you wanted before you asked based on your Geolocation, past behaviours and previous days search behaviour

  9. There are always 2 sides to everything. Something like Yin and Yang. It is a good thing that Google can come up with personalized search result for every users. But it has to come at the cost of sacrificing the user’s privacy data.

  10. There are always 2 sides to everything. Something like Yin and Yang. It is a good thing that Google can come up with personalized search result for every users. But it has to come at the cost of sacrificing the user’s privacy data.

  11. There wasn’t much to this article – just a bunch of hypotheses, implications and thinking out loud, nothing concrete..

    While I agree that Google seeks to gather, store and process data on everyone and that their wi-fi incident was nothing accidental AT ALL, they will only get this data if you accept to give them.

    In my case, this doesn’t trouble me: they have next to no data from me, except from me using their search engine and a little of Google Analytics. I use their email as spam email inbox, not for personal emails and I don’t use any of their TV, Android, Buzz, Docs, social networks and so on.

    Remember, they only have what you want to give them.

  12. There wasn’t much to this article – just a bunch of hypotheses, implications and thinking out loud, nothing concrete..

    While I agree that Google seeks to gather, store and process data on everyone and that their wi-fi incident was nothing accidental AT ALL, they will only get this data if you accept to give them.

    In my case, this doesn’t trouble me: they have next to no data from me, except from me using their search engine and a little of Google Analytics. I use their email as spam email inbox, not for personal emails and I don’t use any of their TV, Android, Buzz, Docs, social networks and so on.

    Remember, they only have what you want to give them.

  13. I love google search but i hate them for many reasons…….they are like british empire in 19th century

    they are slowly turning the devils face…………google is very imperative in future……

  14. This is not right. I think Google doesn’t have care about our personal informations. I think every person should have a privacy comes to their personal lives. Google should know about that.

  15. This is the best things to know about from the Google side cause they wants to reveals the things for their side.The Google wants the data about the personal from their side.SO they make the things counts.

  16. Thanks for giving such a great article. All information about google is nice. I have bookmarked this article for my future reference.

  17. You are exactly right! Google is really all about you. Eric Schmidt said this statement; “I actually think most people don’t want Google to answer their questions, they want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.”

  18. It’s a great read! I have been thinking about it for awhile.
    I don’t want Google to know my every single online step…
    … and then I buy Android and Google knows every thing about me in offline world as well;)