Google’s Real Goal Behind All Their Free APIs

Ever wonder why Google gives away so many web-developer tools? Tools that otherwise seem like complete money-and-bandwidth-pissing schemes (notice how most of these don’t directly show ads):

This is all about obtaining browsing behavior in a long term bid to increase ad efficiency. Nothing else.

  1. It is not about making things more “open”
  2. It is not about making web development easier
  3. It is not about making an online operating system
  4. It is not about competing with Microsoft
  5. It is not about making the Google brand more ubiquitous
  6. It is not about showing ads in new places

If any of these above things happen, they are a (likely planned) side effect. For example, if a particular API makes something easier, that is good because it will encourage other developers to adopt it as well. But as I will explain shortly, the commonly held beliefs about Google doing Good or Google making the web more open are simply not the reason for these initiatives.

If you notice, all of their APIs use JavaScript. This means all of their APIs have the ability to note what computer a given request is coming from. This means that on top of your search preferences, they can eventually begin to correlate your browsing habits based on the sites that you visit that use Google APIs.

For example, if my blog were to use a YouTube embed, it would be possible for Google to read a cookie originally placed on your machine by YouTube and correlate it as traffic coming from this site. This means they can uniquely track every YouTube video your computer has ever watched since the last time you cleared your cookies. YouTube is just an example because most of Google’s APIs are far less obvious to the end user. For example, the unified AJAX libraries could be used by a good half of the “2.0” websites out there without impacting performance (and in many cases would make the sites load faster for the end user). But because everything is going through Google, it’s possible (although I’m not saying that are) for them to track which sites you visit.

If this isn’t extremely valuable information, I don’t know what is. Don’t forget that the AdSense API is, in itself, a means for Google to track every website you’ve ever been to that uses AdSense, and for a way for Google to know exactly which type of ads interested you in the past. Once they know what sites you visit, they can surmise what a given site is about, and then determine, for example, what sort of products would interest you.

It’s the classic advertising chicken and egg problem: If I knew what my customers wanted, I could sell it to them, but they won’t tell me.

…And Google found the chicken. For the time being, they haven’t started using this information (at least noticeably), but I am sure they will as market forces move to make competition in that area more necessary.

Say goodbye to privacy. =( Oh wait, I’ve been saying that for quite some time now.

5 thoughts on “Google’s Real Goal Behind All Their Free APIs

  1. This type of tracking won’t work well on me – my cookies get cleared automatically when i close my browser (3-4 times a day generally).
    Though Google do get to track my web usage through Web History
    ( I get to see that too, though 😀 ).
    It does sound like this will work for normal(or at least a large proportion of) browser use, though & the side effects are rather nice so far.
    – imma

  2. You are right, but even then, they can still slowly gather small bits of browsing history together and yield correlations. For example, maybe they’ll notice that there are actually higher click rates on “computer” related keyword ads on visitors that frequent both reddit and digg (purely an example). Or maybe they could map together that people who read my blog are more likely to also visit sites x, y, and z. Eventually they might figure out that there is are subsets of populations that visit specific sites that ALSO visit other sites that are interested in different things. For example, even though everybody is visiting CNN (making the ads fairly generic), they might notice that you showed up on another site that correlates to technically savvy users… So even if they can’t track you very well, they tracked the 1M other people very closely and now can guess at your disposition. They have SO MUCH data and end-users that even the smallest correlations could yield big returns.

  3. You are so right about privacy being gone. Another freaky thing is the advent of GPS + Internet-connected phones (think Iphone and its feature to publish on twitter where you are). Also see with their “aerial view” which is surprisingly good. I cannot imagine that we really have any privacy any more.. Cash is becoming obsolete and replaced with plastic. Too much to think about that its actually scary so maybe I just wont think about it and go back to bed…..

  4. PS… I noticed you have both Google Ads and Google Analytics on this site too… Did you agree to allow them to “share your data between services”?

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