Last week at the Google I/O developers conference Google unveiled Google Now, a service that tracks your every move and presents you with relevant information based off your daily routines and weekly patterns. Google Now provides users with information in the form of Cards that display your local weather forecast, traffic patterns, bus/train schedules and your favorite team’s score during game time. Now’s automated service, while impressive is also raising eyebrows in terms of privacy issues.
Why Google Now is Cool
Now presents you with Cards that appear when they’re needed. Starting out, Now is keeping things simple with only a few Cards and promising more soon to come.
Currently Now displays:
- Traffic – Shows traffic conditions and alternate routes before leaving for work, based on current location, location history and web history.
- Public Transit – When near a bus or rail station, Now displays departure/arrival times based on the enabling of location services.
- Next Appointment – If you’ve got an appointment scheduled in your calendar, Now can monitor traffic patterns and determine how long it will take you to get there. Now even notifies you that it’s time to leave – based on synced calendars and current location.
- Flights – Now informs you of flight delays and traffic conditions to the airport for flights you’ve recently searched for – based on enabling location services and web history.
- Sports – Now updates you on your favorite teams in real time, displaying scores, upcoming games and even allowing you to purchase tickets to the next game based on web history.
- Places – Now can suggest nearby restaurants, bars, landmarks and places of interest based on enabling your location services. Places works with Google Maps to plot out directions, get information, read reviews or make reservations based on enabling location services.
- Weather – Now shows you current weather conditions each morning for your current location and work based on enabling location services.
- Translation – Now helps you with translation on the fly when traveling.
- Currency – Now makes conversion rates simple for your next trip.
- Time at Home – If you’re in a different time zone, Now can show you the time at home.
“You’re in control. Choose exactly which cards you see. You control whether you get personalized results from your calendars, locations and searches after opting in.”
I’m in control? Okay but where is all of this personalized data coming from and what if I don’t want it? What if I just want my phone to make calls? If you thought Google was invasive before, just wait.
It’s official; Google is Skynet
Don’t be alarmed, yet. Google Now’s personalized data aggregation, while useful yet creepy isn’t anything new. In fact, Google already collects data about you on a regular basis: monitoring your email, calendar, contacts, location, text messages, shopping patterns, payment history, taste in music, movies, TV, books and etc. If that’s not enough, Google is currently working on the ability to scan photos and identify images based on picture, not text. Google’s knowledge about your personal life may provide you with relevant information throughout the day but such a wide scale demonstration of personal knowledge is evoking mixed reviews.
In January 2012, Google’s Director of Privacy, Product and Engineering Alma Whitten, announced new privacy policies and terms of service. Whitten mentioned some of Now’s features,
“We can provide reminders that you’re going to be late for a meeting based on your location, your calendar and an understanding of what the traffic is like that day. Or ensure that our spelling suggestions, even for your friends’ names, are accurate because you’ve typed them before. People still have to do way too much heavy lifting, and we want to do a better job of helping them out.”
Sounds convenient right? Whitten’s post went on to stir up the hive as the Electronic Privacy Information Center sued and many U.S. state attorneys general protested and criticized Google’s new policy. The EPIC lawsuit has since been dismissed by a federal judge and although nothing has panned out in terms of changing Google’s policy, the power now lies with the people – the Resistance.
Will users find Google Now’s service convenient and productive or will they find it creepy and Orwellian?
Ignorance Is Bliss