How Google's Data Digging Changed Me For The Better
Published on June 16, 2016 by Reed Snider
The NSA wants access to our phones, even though they’re unlikely to contain the data goldmine of secret information they hope for. That information about our habits and behavior is held elsewhere, within the data-hoarding companies like Facebook and Google that we use every day. These companies hold a valuable and dynamic digital profile of their users. Far more than just a recent text message, this wealth of information contains data about their habits, likes and dislikes.
But how much does Google really know about you? Do they know what you like to eat and what shows you watch? Well, if you search Google for vegetarian recipes and use a Google Chromecast to watch the latest House of Cards episode, you bet they do.
Does this bother you? It shouldn’t. Let’s begin first by addressing the problems you may be considering before I tell you why you should let this big, or rather behemoth, brother of yours keep watching.
A Pew Research study in 2012 found an overwhelming 73% of adults would not be okay with a search engine keeping track of searches and having that information be used to personalize future searches.
This general disapproval for search engine data mining absolutely baffles me given how often I find myself appreciating a relevant search result or helpful notification. I know that Google is using data from my personal emails and previous searches to provide this information, but the benefit this provides in assisting me outweighs any cost of lost privacy.
It makes me wonder, will this opinion of disdain towards data mining hold over time? In the world of the Internet, much can change in a few years. From 2006-2008 the total amount of Google search queries quadrupled and today they answer to about 3.5 billion searches per day. I believe that people will grow more accepting of data collection as they begin to realize how much it can benefit their lives. Helping to prioritize tasks and providing helpful information when you need it, data collection is making your life easier. Collecting data isn’t just about the ads you see, it’s about how companies like Google gather information and use it to provide value to you as their customer. It’s about how the data they collect can improve your life and give you the ultimate user experience.
What Do They Do With All That Data?
Roughly two-thirds (64.4% as of April 2016) of all search queries in the United States are through Google, three times as many as the next search platform down that list, Bing. This means that Google has a lot of data, filling giant warehouses in Finland with it. Google's vision for data mining is clear, it says that they use this personal information to not only keep your private information safe, but to improve your daily life too. The reality is that Google is also an advertising company that uses data to target you with marketing hoopla. However, this data is also helping everyone by providing Google with the user behavior information it needs to discover and eventually create useful products and services.
Data collection is a sensitive subject. However, unlike the NSA, which may be looking for dangerous criminals, the data collected by Google is more about everyday behavior. This includes the things we think about, talk about and do the most - and that is why it is so important to us. When Google tells us we should leave now to arrive at the airport on time we’re delighted. However, when they send a notification that our stock has plummeted today we might get upset. We want these companies to know us, but we don’t want to have to tell them everything about ourselves. We want to be helped, not hindered. Consoled, not enraged. Google is walking a tight line between being our helpful aide and annoying big brother.
How Google Has Improved My Life
The good news is that this type of personalization is getting better each day as more data comes in and more feedback is given back. The buzz around “big data” and the wealth of information that can be gleaned has companies racing to get the upper hand on user behavior discovery. Notably, the use of email data allows Google to send me up-to-date information on my package delivery status so my $1,000 TV isn’t sitting in the lobby for too long. Google Calendar has the newly designed ability to add personal goals, such as exercising or reaching out to a friend. Using data from your emails, calendar events and preferences, the app marks times during the week to complete your goals. These type of helpful tools are what make me okay with Google’s vast collection of data.
The new calendar feature has gone beyond user experience delight by actually changing my behavior for the better. Since I began setting goals through Google I have been working out more and talking with friends back home on a regular basis. I can sincerely say that my life has improved. Only a company that knows my habits and schedule can offer such a practical tool. In the future, other helpful tools will continue to emerge from Google's data mining. They will be designed for real needs based upon real data provided by real users like yourself. I am willing to sacrifice the data from my emails, calendar and search history for the sake of improving my life and the life of others. Are you?
Reed is a Research and Design Associate at the User Experience Center (UXC). As a consultant he works with a variety of clients to improve product usability. He is currently pursuing a Master of Science degree in Human Factors in Information Design at Bentley University.
Reed is passionate about user-centered design and learning how to be an effective leader. His past work experience has been in web and graphic design as well as marketing. In his free time Reed loves to take photos and travel the world to learn about new cultures.
Reed is always up to chat about UX and you can contact him firstname.lastname@example.org
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