Updated

watching you.jpg
Watching you

When we write about Google, we get more feedback — both positive and negative — than for any other company we write about.

Just check out the comments on our post about the purchase of a 767 by co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and the obsession with which with this story was followed (see this WSJ story (sub required).

An increasing number of readers are contacting us with complaints that we’re writing too much about Google. Meanwhile, we’ve seen other bloggers try to go on “Google fasts,” saying they won’t post about Google for a week — only to break these fasts early.

But over the past several months, Google’s latest offerings have sharpened the story considerably. Now may be the time to put Google’s activities under more scrutiny than ever. Google has unleashed so many new services, all of which collect large amounts of data about us, that Google will market to us with its ads with ever more…

precision. There’s Google Base, which is collecting all sorts of information about you and what you have sell. That’s partly what sparked the opinion piece by search expert John Battelle, published in the Mercury News, recenty about how “Google is Watching You.”

..Consider the concentration of information about us that resides with the search companies, or that’s accessible using their tools. It goes beyond the database of intentions we create when we click around the Web. Because we are increasingly moving our digital lives from the constraints of the PC to the relatively boundless Web, we also are creating virtual profiles of ourselves. Hundreds of millions of us store our e-mail, photographs, social networks, contact databases and personal journals on the Web, and we are adding to that pile at an extraordinary rate.

Put together the bread crumbs we leave as we navigate the Web with the mountain of personal information we’ve posted there, and add to that the e-mails we send and receive, and you have an enormous storehouse of data available to the search companies

Some highlight the limits to Google’s strategy of collecting information in a centralized database. They argue, perhaps rightly, that much of the Web’s strength is in its diversity, in the multifaceted, unstructured ways people create information on the Web with no intention of having it owned by anyone else. This information, in contrast to the info residing in Google’s centralized database, will reside on the “edge,” and may provide elusive. Here’s a good post on this by Fred Wilson.

Still, Google proceeds with its strategy at an impressive space. Consider this piece from the New York Times, about the technology Google has developed to serve up ads:

Hidden behind its simple white pages, Google has already created what it says is one of the most sophisticated artificial intelligence systems ever built. In a fraction of a second, it can evaluate millions of variables about its users and advertisers [our emphasis], correlate them with its potential database of billions of ads and deliver the message to which each user is most likely to respond. Because of this technology, users click ads 50 percent to 100 percent more often on Google than they do on Yahoo, Mr. Noto estimates, and that is a powerful driver of Google’s growth and profits. ‘Because the ads are more relevant,” he said, “they create a better return for advertisers, which causes them to spend more money, which gives Google better margins.’ (Yahoo is working on its own technology to narrow that gap.)

(Via Slashdot)

Millions of variables. That’s a big number. It shows how concerted this effort of Google’s must be. You can’t bumble into that sort of number.

And Slashdot also points to an item about how Google may be creating its own branded digital television DVR / satellite service:

A DVR that lets you “Log In” with your Google Account before you begin your television watching would allow Google to serve up relevant ads based on: the program you are watching, your search history, the type of emails you have received in the past 24 hours (excluding spam hopefully), or anything else Google can track. Imagine the possibilities… You are watching Google Satellite TV through your “internet ready” Google DVR.

Yikes. This is a lot of stuff lately, and we can hardly keep up. Put all together, Google has moved on to become a great big company. We’re wondering where this will stop. 2006 will be an interesting year to see where Google heads next. Perhaps chips in the brain? (Update: We may be closer to this brain chip than we realized!)

(PS. Apologies, all you RSS subscribers, for a previous post which you may have seen. It was a jet-lagged effort on my part to store some notes about Google for this and/or other posts. So please ignore.)