As a reader of Daily Reckoning I was interested in an article they put together on the rise (or more to the point, the lackthereof) of payments via mobile phones in the US. It mentions the lack of adoption of this technology in the US compared to many other places in the world. The crux of the issue, according to the Daily Reckoning, is that the financial institutions do not want to let the Google’s of this world start muscling in on their oligopoly – driving down profits and taking market share from their bread and butter retail card payment profits (remember that every transaction made by credit or debit card costs the retailer).
This got me thinking about how it is yet another means by which Google can learn more about you. This will give them more data on where you go and what you buy. They may not be able to sell your email address to interested third parties, but they could certainly tailor the advertisements you see on the Internet. They already allow adverts to follow you round the Internet with Google Remarketing, it’s really just an extension of that. As I started thinking about all of this I started to think about the biographic data they can build up about a Google user.
So what can Google learn about me?
Off the top of my head I can identify the following that Google could figure out about you from its own data:
- What you search for on the Internet (search services)
- What websites you visit (search services, analytics, your Google account, Chrome data?)
- Who your friends are (Google+, Blogger)
- What your interests are (email, Google+, Google Reader plus many more)
- Who you are in contact with and what you talk about (Gmail, Google voice)
- Where you go (maps, android based location services)
- What products you would like to buy (product search, search services, Adwords tracking data)
- What you buy (checkout, possibly their future payment systems)
- Your financial interests (inferred by settings in Google Finance perhaps)
Some of this may be hard to find out and to collate, but for the masters of search it would surely not be impossible.
A few examples
- You use your android mobile to pay for takeaways locally 3 times in 6 weeks. Google matches this data up and Pizza Hut pay to advertise to people in your area who have bought takeaway recently.
- You follow several web design blogs in Google Reader, follow some well known developers in Google+ Circles, often search for WordPress related items via Google – Dreamhost pays to advertise in front of WordPress developers
- You have a conversation via Gmail or Google chat and talk about your recent ankle injury. The adverts following you around the Internet are suddenly all about physiotherapists in your local area.
For the tin foil hat wearing brigade I’ll also mention 23andme.com, a company part owned by Anne Wojcicki who is married to Google co-founder Sergey Brin. The company offers a service that enables you to get a genetic profile of yourself, highlighting which diseases and illnesses you are predisposed to. Google has reportedly invested around $6.5M in the service. Imagine signing up for that and then seeing lots of adverts for the miracle drugs to stop you getting such a disease. That would be an amazing opportunity for the pharmaceuticals industries.
I’m not advocating that everyone cancels all Google account and switches to other email providers or anything, nor am I suggesting that Google has abandoned its “Do no evil” motto, however it is worth considering the clout that this data will give Google in years to come.
I’d also suggest that it is not just Google to consider – Facebook and LinkedIn are building up similar profiles of your personal and business personas to help their advertisers target you. They will have a much easier time profiling you, though perhaps Google can get a larger overall view.
The Internet and World Wide Web have made the lives of the everyman more and more public and it is only to be expected that companies will try and use that information for their own gains.