Google Now: Do You Want Google Using Your Information In This Way?

    July 6, 2012
    Chris Crum

Google is looking to change the future of search by making it less relevant. It’s a pretty bold move, considering that search is Google’s bread and butter. With Google Now, Google wants to give you the information you need before you even have to search for it. Some find the new feature, announced last week at Google I/O, fascinating, and potentially very helpful, while others are a little creeped out by it, and have concerns about the privacy implications. Others simply aren’t keen on the idea of Google making their decisions for them in this manner.

Do you want Google to use your data to personalize your Google experience even further that it already is? Tell us what you think about Google Now.

“Google Now gets you just the right information at just the right time,” Google says, explaining the new feature of Android, included as part of the operating system’s latest version, Jellybean. “It tells you today’s weather before you start your day, how much traffic to expect before you leave for work, when the next train will arrive as you’re standing on the platform, or your favorite team’s score while they’re playing. And the best part? All of this happens automatically. Cards appear throughout the day at the moment you need them.”

That pretty much sums it up, but it seems clear that this is really just the beginning of something very big. It may only be offered for this one version of Android right now (though, apparently there are some work-arounds for that). That leaves out a whole lot of Google users, but there’s no way Google will not expand this. We can only speculate at this time, but I can see Google expanding this to the Web, Google TV, and even iOS devices via an app, should Apple allow it. It seems like too big a deal for Google not to get it in front of as many users as possible. Perhaps we’ll see it make its way to older versions of Android, but eventually more and more users will catch up to Jellybean, and future versions of Android anyway. It just may take a little while for that to happen.

If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s Google promo for Google Now:

Promo videos from Google aren’t always necessarily indicative of the actual product, as we’ve seen from Project Glass (granted, Google was clear about that not being a finished product). The Google Now vid looks to be a pretty accurate reflection of how it works though. Steve Kovach at Business Insider says Google Now puts Apple’s Siri to shame, citing some real life examples of where Google Now is living up to its promises.

“I was in San Francisco last week to cover Google I/O and meet with some other companies in the area,” he writes, for one. “I had a meeting in Mountain View on Friday morning. Google Now sent me a notification about 45 minutes before my meeting that said I should leave if I wanted to make it on time. It even took traffic into account. Incredible.”

“I’m a Mets fan (unfortunately), so a lot of my sports-related Google searches are for the score of the latest game,” he says. “Google knows this, so Google Now automatically sends me notifications with the latest score. I don’t even have to ask anymore.”

“I took the red eye back to New York Friday night, and spent the hours before my flight drinking with some PR friends in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood. Based on my search history, Google Now already knew my flight number and kept me updated with gate information and potential delays,” he adds.

Here’s a side by side look at Android’s new voice search capabilities vs. Apple’s Siri.

SlashGear shares a hands-on with Google Now:

The company has been talking about this concept of getting users the info they need before they even know it, for years. That’s truly speeding up the search process, another concept Google has been pushing for years (and one in which Google has accomplished quite a bit with its Chrome browser).

Google Now has 10 “cards” at launch, but Google says there will be more to come. My guess is that there will be many, many more.

Here are the cards it’s starting with (along with the data they access):

1. Traffic (Shown based on current location, location history and Web History)

2. Public Transit (Only shown if location services enabled)

3. Next Appointment (Shown based on synced calendars and current location)

4. Flights (Only shown if location services and Web History enabled)

5. Sports (Shown based on Web History)

6. Places (Only shown if location services enabled)

7. Weather (Only shown if location services enabled)

8. Translation (Only shown if location services enabled)

9. Currency (Only shown if location services enabled)

10. Time At Home (Only shown if location services enabled)

These cards (and any others that might come later) will mean users don’t have to search for quite as many things. If this works like it is supposed to, users will simply become less dependent on search (and perhaps more dependent on notifications). That appears to be fine with Google, as long as Google is still in the driver’s seat.

The fact is that this decreased dependence on search is happening anyway – with or without Google’s help. People are finding more ways to consume information that are sometimes more convenient, or simply more fun, particularly through mobile apps. Google is finding ways to combat this too. One example would be another new Android feature, which lets users find out what songs are playing, using a sound search app, rather than having to enter a text query into Google search (or, of course, use the popular app Shazam).

Here’s that in action:

About Those Privacy Concerns

As you can see from the list above, Google Now card features deliver info based on your current location, location history, web history, and calendar. You may recall earlier this year, when Google consolidated its privacy policies, and essentially made it so the company could easily pass user data from one Google product to the next, as if each product is merely a feature of the one large Google product. That is, by the way, the way Google seems to be approaching things in general (Google+, for example, isn’t just a standalone product, but the “social spine” of the larger Google, according to the company).

That privacy policy redux enables Google to tap into any Google products you might be using, and use what you’ve done there to change how you interact with other Google products. It also, as we can see from Google Now, enables the company to create all new products to make your overall Google experience much more personalized (and possibly better).

But, as you might imagine, this all gives some people an icky feeling.

“Google’s all-knowing Siri-esque personal assistant has confirmed some suspicions, veering from cool feature into creepy stalker territory,” writes Rebecca Greenfield for The Atlantic, for example.

Greenfield pulls another quote from The New York Times’ Jenna Wortham, who says, “It gets weird when Google starts to extend its reach into that territory, because Google already knows so much about us — things like who we e-mail and talk to the most, along with what we search for. When those smaller bits of data begin to get linked together in a more meaningful way, that knowledge can take on a larger, different context.”

Well, I’m going to have to pull a page from the whole early 2012 discussion about the privacy policy. You’re already letting Google have this data. Why not let Google use it in more meaningful ways that can make your life easier?

It’s very likely that Google Now will expand greatly in the coming months and years, and that may not only mean more “cards,” but potentially use of more data from more Google products you use. Do you have a problem with this? Let us know in the comments.