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):
- Maps Widgets
- Charts API
- Open Social
- YouTube embeds
- Unified AJAX libraries
- General Search APIs
This is all about obtaining browsing behavior in a long term bid to increase ad efficiency. Nothing else.
- It is not about making things more “open”
- It is not about making web development easier
- It is not about making an online operating system
- It is not about competing with Microsoft
- It is not about making the Google brand more ubiquitous
- 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.
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.