It’s due to take effect on March 1st 2012, but why have they done it, and what does it mean to the average user and the search industry as a whole?
The fundamental reason for pushing this change, and the reason privacy advocates are up in arms, is that Google want a more seamless experience amongst all of their products, especially flagship ones such as Search, Gmail, Google+ and Youtube. This means that all of these services will share more data about you than ever before – which could mean a more customised user experience but will also have a significant impact on how much Google understands its users and can profile them.
What are some specific things users can expect?
- Results you see in search will be more personalised, for example using your Youtube viewing history to push relevant results. So, if you watch Meatloaf’s music videos on Youtube (poor you..), a Google search for ‘meatloaf’ is more likely to show results for the music artist than recipes.
- More details about people you know will be shared between Google products – so someone you follow on Google+ could be highlighted in your Gmail account, for example. Google Docs will be aware of your Gmail and Google+ contacts when you want to share documents or files.
- Services like Google Calendar could use your current location (taken from Google+ or search settings) to remind you about meetings based on how long your journey to the meeting location might take.
- Data from multiple services can be integrated. Google Calendar reminders in Gmail, your Picasa photos in Google+, your favourite Youtube channel videos in search results…you get the picture!
But what’s in it for Google?
Well, in part it’s the desire to deliver an improved experience for Google users. The internet giant is very aware that to sell more advertising (which is, remember, their core business) they need to make its services the best available on the web and encourage people to stay inside Google properties, loading pages and viewing adverts.
The main reason however is to add another layer of intelligence into the behemoth which is Google’s advertising platform. By sharing data between all of Google’s products, they can build up a terrifyingly accurate picture of a user’s interests, their daily routine, social circles (please excuse the Google+ pun) and travel habits.
By understanding users more than ever, Google can show hyper-relevant advertising and charge more for it – either through higher click-through rates or advertiser’s willingness to pay a higher cost-per-click. Expect to see adverts on Google properties that are so personalised that they may become unnerving:
- If you’ve searched for a destination in Google Maps, you may see adverts for hotels and restaurants in that location on Google Calendar.
- Email a friend via Gmail and you may see adverts on Google+ (yes, it’s only a matter of time) for whatever it is you’ve just been talking about.
- Follow a brand on Google+ and you may see sponsored video content from them in Youtube.
- And if you use a specific model of Android phone, you may see adverts in Google search results for accessories (regardless of whether you’re searching from your phone or laptop).
To sum up…
As a search agency who advertises for clients via the AdWords platform, I’m looking forward to seeing what advanced targeting options Google rolls out over the next 12 months. The more targeted and relevant we can make adverts for our clients, the more effective they can be and the better the return on investment for clients.
As a user, I’m actually pleased that Google have made this move and I hope that it leads to a new level of automation and intelligence when using the Google products that now pervade my personal and professional life. I can imagine Google being able to use this data to create a sort-of ‘digital butler’ who can recommend interesting websites and resources based on my interests, remind me of upcoming events and help me organise my life better.
I hope that Google won’t use this data in ways that users find overly intrusive or allow it to get into the hands of dubious people. However, unlike some of the mainstream press who are sensationalising the ‘invasion of privacy’ angle, I can’t see why Google would want to risk what would surely be a suicidal lapse of judgement.