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Google Takes Another Step Toward Omniscience

Google Takes Another Step Toward Omniscience

Google's insatiable lust for data may set some privacy advocates' teeth on edge, but it appears that most people are quite willing to trade personal information for cool free services and aren't concerned much over a "creepy" line being crossed. Google already "knows more about a person than anyone," said analyst Zeus Kerravala, and its acquisition of tech startup Behavio will help it put all that data it collects in context.

By Rachelle Dragani E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
04/16/13 5:00 AM PT

Google has engaged the Behavio team in a "hiring exercise." [*Correction - April 17, 2013]

The startup uses mobile sensors to collect data and predict behavior. Its technology recognizes data such as location, contacts, nearby destinations, recent phone activity, daily movement, and even surrounding physical information such as temperature or light level.

Data can be analyzed to let consumers know anything from whether their morning coffee stop is unusually crowded to which traffic routes are clear -- or even where they can find cellphone coverage in the event of a natural disaster, the company said.

The collected information also could help mobile developers create apps and features such as data visualizations, personalized notifications or real-time maps optimized for a specific user's behavior, habits and surroundings.

Behavio built its technology on Funf.org, an open source software project. The Funf project will stay open. Behavio decided to wind down its alpha program before beginning to "work on exciting things" at Google, it said.

Going More Local

Going forward, companies looking to build a mobile platform are going to need to have a strong hold on incredibly local data from consumers, said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research. Designing a mobile platform that can cater differently to consumers in different locations will be essential, especially for Google, with its core search focus.

"Mobile Internet needs a different type of search, one that is more contextual in nature," he told the E-Commerce Times. "Mobile searches can take into account not only your recent searches [and] what you might like on Facebook, but also use that in with your location and be able to be much more predictive than most searches are today."

The Behavio "hiring exercise" is a smart one for a company like Google, said R Ray Wang, principal analyst and CEO of Constellation Research. [*Correction - April 17, 2013]

The Behavio technology recognizes how many layers of data could be useful in analyzing consumer behavior. Now it's up to Google to capitalize on that data.

"This is more than just another location-based services app," Wang told the E-Commerce Times. "Behavio in principle turns the smartphone into a living, breathing, always-on sensor. What Google does with that data is what will be interesting as context becomes more and more important. Without context, you have no relevancy."

As of now, Google is ahead of its competitors in being able to contextualize information, Kerravala pointed out, but the mobile space is young and tumultuous.

"Google knows more about a person than anyone," he noted, "even though Yahoo has the same idea -- but they're working from a position of weakness. Microsoft has a potential threat with Bing, because Microsoft can appeal more to corporate users, but Google is really in a leadership position at this point, and it's their market to lose."

Staying Private

Of course, being able to collect information and predict user behavior comes with its own set of challenges, said Bud Albers, president of Interactive Technology Strategies. Google is no stranger to consumer outrage and privacy complaints, and technology like Behavio's will probably raise some alarms over just how much data can be collected and how it may be used.

Nevertheless, the market is heading toward a world where information is more freely given and processed, even if consumers know many of the risks, Albers said.

"Most people are willing to make those trade-offs," he told the E-Commerce Times. "Many times, we trade in information, and we get apps and services out of it that makes life a little easier and more manageable. Google is definitely very good at knowing exactly how to capture and monetize information while giving us free services in the process, so we're more willing to trade off. That's the gold standard."


*ECT News Network editor's note - April 17, 2013: Our original published version of this story stated that Google acquired Behavio. Although Google did not respond to our request to comment for this story prior to its publication, spokesperson Katelin Todhunter-Gerberg later got in touch, saying that Google did not officially acquire Behavio. She could not share specifics of the deal but said it could be characterized as a "hiring exercise."


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