Google wants to push data mining as much as it can before it's rumbled

A confidential Google privacy document has been leaked, revealing that the search giant is questioning how far it can and will go with its warehouse of collected data before it starts to breach the privacy of its users.

The seven-page document, compiled towards the end of 2008, is a “vision statement” of where Google plans to push things in the future, describing some ideas as “safe” and others as “not safe”, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In a time when privacy is becoming a big concern, particularly with the world’s eyes watching Google over its Street View snooping fiasco, it is clear that the company is well aware of how easily it could overstep bounds and incur the wrath of privacy groups, not to mention its users.

One of the pages in the document highlights how Google plans to use its other properties, like Youtube and Gmail, as a conduit for advertising and data collection: “Properties like Youtube, Orkut, Gmail, Checkout and others can become data contributors,” it said, qualifying that “appropriate privacy / anonymization techniques” need to be put in place.

Google then highlights its vision for “data exchange in the future”, saying: “Google can build a data exchange / trading platform allowing individual data owners to transact with others directly, or openly sell their data to any bidders.” 

Considering the vast array of data Google has on its users, which total some 75 percent of all people who use the internet according to a comScore report, this opens a worrying can of worms. Even Google is aware of the danger, adding: “These ideas span a range of safe and not to safe practices.”

The document also outlines some “wacky” ideas aimed at the potential to “leverage the user-cookie”. While that may sound like yet another privacy problem, some of its ideas here are actually designed to improve the user experience, such as letting users block specific advertisers, specify the types of ads they’d like to see, or even pay to remove all ads from the services they use.

Then there’s the wackier still, and much more dangerous, idea of users getting paid for providing their personal information: “Users can opt-in to share their personal data in return for direct benefits (eg we’ll pay for all/part oftheir ISP bill or other affiliate/coupon benefits). It even suggested an interest in users handing over their credit ratings for some of these “payments”.

It also highlights Google’s aim to potentially mix all the seperate data it receives from its numerous services into a single entity from which it would then use the information to develop even more tightly targeted ads. This means it would scour your Gmail account and then place ads based on your e-mails on Youtube or its search engine, for example, something it currently does not do.

The document, compiled by Google employee Aitan Weinberg, was tagged with “INTERNAL CONFIDENTIAL” and some of the opening description warned of the “sensitive nature” of the information contained within it, which it said might cause “mis-understanding” to the outside world.

Of course, this vision statement does not constitute what Google actually plans to put into force, but it does give us an inkling into the way it thinks and where it may potentially go in the future. It is clearly aware of the concerns people have raised, stating that “strong consideration of privacy” would be kept in mind, but at the same time it is treading dangerously close to betraying the trust of its users.

Who knows what kind of vision statement Google has for 2010 and how much further it is willing to push the boundaries of privacy in its efforts to expand and increase its profits.