Google is trialling a controversial new feature that allows them to use your personal data within Google search results, including your recent purchases. The reaction from the internet has so far been mixed, to say the least, with many people finding it disturbing and intrusive. The data displayed is taken from other private Google services, such as Gmail and Google Maps, and mixed in with search results to provide a bespoke and, supposedly, more helpful search result.
For example, if you search for a product you have recently purchased (that is mentioned somewhere in your Gmail account), a personalised content unit will popup about that purchase with extra information. A reassuring message is displayed before the content is shown, saying that only the user will be able to see the result. An explanation from Google is available by clicking on a ‘Learn More’ link:
“You can search for information from other Google products you use, like Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google+. For example, you can search for information about your upcoming flights, restaurant reservations, or appointments.”
The reason many people find this disconcerting is that Gmail (and email in general) is generally considered to be something private, whereas browsing is more public. It brings with it countless security concerns. What about shared computers? What if a secret gift you purchased for your partner was spoiled by an overly-helpful Google reminding you about what you have recently purchased?
What Google is trying to do with this is create the ultimate personalised search engine. If you have no concerns about privacy issues, this kind of bespoke search engine could be efficient and helpful. For example, if you typed ‘reservations’ into Google, it would use the information from your emails to display, on Google’s search results, what upcoming reservations you might have. At first, this can seem disturbing; it seems as if your personal data is all over the internet, accessible by anyone, but only the user can see those tailored search results.
All this appears to be the next bold step of Google Now, which is described as an ‘intelligent personal assistant’. For a marketer, having access to people’s emails is a potential goldmine. In Google’s updated terms and conditions, it mentions the vague and unassuming term of ‘combining data’. Here they explain, “…we show you ads based on information from your use of Search and Gmail.”
It is currently still possible to opt out of this new service by altering your search settings and clicking ‘Do Not Use’ under ‘Private Results’. Whether it remains optional will remain to be seen. Eventually, the only way to avoid this may be to log out of Google or use alternative browsers.