How Google is collecting user data — and paying users for it, too

As part of a project called Screenwise, Google is paying normal people to install a Chrome extension and browse the web as usual.

“Panelists,” as these average-Joe-and-Jane users are called, will be paid in Amazon gift cards — one $5 gift card every three months, to be exact. (Google notes that Amazon is not part of the program.)

The Chrome extension will track what these people do around the web, the sites they use, and what they do on those sites. The activity-tracking can be turned off at will if participants want to do some incognito browsing while enrolled in the study.

Google says it will use the data it gathers over the course of the project to “help us improve Google products and services and make a better online experience for everyone.”

Google has many such research projects running at any given time, from focus groups to broader analyses, some of which include participant compensation. This project started near the beginning of the year.

The Screenwise research project could continue for longer than a year. The human guinea pigs who sign up may or may not see their gift card amounts change after the one-year mark.

It’s not the most heavyweight bribe in the world, but it’s what Google partner Knowledge Networks is offering. Google tapped the market research firm to conduct the Screenwise project.

Participants must be Google Account holders and must be 13 or older. For minors, parental consent is required for participation, and younger participants also have the ability to turn the tool off for any browsing activity they choose.

“Like many other web and media companies, we do panel research to help better serve our users by learning more about people’s media use, on the web and elsewhere,” a Google representative wrote to VentureBeat in an email.

“This panel is one such small project that started near the beginning of the year. Of course, this is completely optional to join. People can choose to participate if it’s of interest (or if the gift appeals) and everyone who does participate has complete transparency and control over what Internet use is being included in the panel. People can stay on the panel as long as they’d like or leave at any time.”

Image courtesy of Denis Vrublevski, Shutterstock

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