Google has announced plans to begin pulling information from your Gmail, Google Calendar and Google+ accounts to serve up personalized results like flight times, reservations and plans.
The company says the personalized data will be provided via an encrypted connection, and, of course, the service will only operate when logged in to an account. Those who prefer Google Search not have access to that information can always turn the feature off.
A sample list of the kinds of results that Google plans to provide included: flights, reservations, purchases, plans and photos. Users could, for instance, ask Google, “What’s my flight status?” or “When will my package arrive?” and get a response.
The feature will arrive first for US English-speaking users across desktops, smartphones and tablets in the next couple of days.
The move draws on Google’s success with Google Now and is bound to make the company’s search engine more useful, but it’s also likely to raise concerns about privacy. For instance, users that leave the feature on will need to remember to log out of their Google accounts before letting someone else user their devices for fear of an embarrassing or incriminating result accidentally popping up on search.
Twitter designer Paul Stamatiou noted recently about Google: “No other company has embedded itself this deeply into my life.” The level of depth that Google has achieved with our online and digital lives brings extraordinary improvements like Google Now, but it also exposes us to greater risk.
Google recently came under fire for a passage in a legal defense that suggested email senders have no “legitimate expectation” of privacy when communicating with Gmail users. While the quote itself was taken out of context, the critical response it evoked suggests that Google has lost the trust of some of its users.
One of the key issues here is whether the new personalization settings will be enabled by default for users when they go live, or whether Google will make them opt-in. If they’re turned on by default, users could be in for an uncomfortable surprise in a few days when Google starts knowing all about them. When contacted by The Next Web, a Google representative explained that the update is coming to all users, and it can be disabled on a per-session basis or toggled off.
Google first began making its search engine more personal last January with its “Search Plus Your World” initiative, which drew upon Google+ accounts to produce custom results. Last October, the company began personalizing results for logged in Gmail users even if they hadn’t signed up for Google+.
Microsoft’s competing search engine Bing has included its own personalization features for a couple years now, though still on a surface level. The company teamed up with Facebook to show pages that Facebook friends have liked as part of Bing’s results.
Photo credit: KIMIHIRO HOSHINO/AFP/Getty Images
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