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Google ScreenWise pays you for your data

You’re the product! I hear this over and over on all of the geeky sites that I tend to frequent. It’s a direct response to every article that comes out describing how yet another “free” online service is gathering every last shred of data on its users, in order to gain access to some of that precious advertising revenue. Now, Google is finally acknowledging that your data is worth a lot of money. In fact, it’s willing to pay you for it.

All you have to do is install the Google ScreenWise extension and then carry on with your every day browsing, secure in the knowledge that Google and its partner, Knowledge Networks, are gathering information about every detail of your online browsing habits. In return, you’ll get a nice little US$5 Amazon gift voucher. In fact, you’ll get one of those gift vouchers every three months that you continue to use the extension. Well, up until Google have paid you US$25. That’s just over a year’s worth of complete access to everything you do in your web-browser for US$25.

Actually, the ScreenWise Panel project has been going for a while, and has been offering some pretty big sweepstakes prizes to participants based in the US. Prizes have included a three night stayaway in Jamaica, Dominican Republic, or Cancun Mexico along with a Kodak video camera and 16GB memory card; and a cash prize of US$3 000. An array of other enticing prizes have also been on offer. Up until now, though, the ScreenWise Panel project has relied on targeted advertising within the US, contacting potential participants directly by mail and enticing them to sign-up via the ScreenWise website.

Unfortunately, it is not clear what data Google is actually collecting using this browser plugin. Google simply states “What we learn from you, and others like you, will help us improve Google products and services and make a better online experience for everyone”. That all sounds nice and friendly, but I think that Google needs to be a little more transparent about what they’re getting out of this before they expect people to start signing up. Some sites are also questioning Google’s timing for this, in light of its recent changes to its Privacy Policy.

Another thing that remains unclear is Google’s relationship with Knowledge Networks, which was recently acquired by global market research firm GFK. Knowledge Networks has a strong history of providing big incentives to build its market research. In the past, it has offered households without home Internet access with a free netbook computer and Internet service, in exchange for user data. A brief analysis of Knowledge Networks products suggests that Google is relying on the company to provide the technology to gather the data that they’re after.

Google also started registering related domains such as “screenwisetrends.com” a few days ago. It seems quite likely that this data will eventually feature online as some form of commercial service. In the meantime, if you are part of the brigade that likes to say things like “There’s nothing to hide if you aren’t doing anything wrong”, there’s a quick buck to be made giving away all of your data. With this in mind, I would like to warn you to use a different browser if you’re doing anything like your Internet banking. Man-in-the-browser attacks are apparently all the rage at the moment.

Author | Rowan Puttergill: Columnist

Rowan Puttergill: Columnist
Rowan Puttergill is a technology evangelist and software engineer with a long career working in enterprise environments. He brings with him the experience of being the Technical Editor at SA Computer magazine, and a career history as a technical author. He is a huge advocate of open-source technologies, and... More