Google’s Screenwise research and privacy

Rintel, S. (2012, February 8). [Interview with Vicki Kerrigan, Drive, ABC Darwin 105.7FM]. Google web usage research

This interview was not recorded. I argued that Google’s new web research, which uses a hardware system to record all of your web usage, is not the total invasion of privacy that it may seem. Sure, you are having everything recorded, but SSL protocols should keep things like credit cards numbers etc. private. Further, while you’re giving up privacy for small amounts of money, at least you are doing so voluntarily and transparently. It’s similar to taking part of modern Neilson rating research, in that a subset of the population has a box recording all TV usage. True, this has more detail, shows more interactivity, and covers more ground, but you’re aware of it and are likely to either (a) not care or (b) self-regulate.

Google wants to “improve its services”, by which it means developing better algorithms for expressing/explaining/predicting patterns of behaviour, especially the stuff that goes on outside of search results. These boxes give them access to that holy grail of marketing. As I’ve argued before (“Do privacy settings work in the age of online reputation management?“), all Social Media companies are collecting data on you, either to tailor ads better to you as an individual or to you as a member of demographic. They often do so opaquely, and their privacy polices can be difficult to understand, changeable, circumvented, broken by new features etc. At least this is transparent.

But I admit, when Ms Kerrigan asked if I would take part, I declined…