In June, when Google announced an update its Android operating system, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, it unveiled a voice search feature called Google Now. Users of Android smartphones and tablets could quickly search the Web for directions, random facts, weather and even flight status by simply requesting the information with their voice. It’s a pretty cool feature, one iOS users have come to know over the last year or so with Siri.
Except, this isn’t your ordinary voice search engine.
Google Now not only responds to voice searches by giving you information on demand, but it also keeps track of where you are, where you’ve been and what you’ve Google’d. It knows everything you do, and what you’re likely to do, before you do it.
The first time I opened Google Now, I was presented with a weather card for my current location — no big deal, a lot of apps and services can do that. Then, later that night, I opened Google Now and I was shown a card with directions to my office. At first glance, I thought nothing of it, then it hit me; I never told Google Now where I worked. The next day when I got to the office, I opened Google Now and was given directions to my house; again, I hadn’t told Google Now where I lived.
Google Now makes you aware of exactly how much Google knows about you — and it’s a lot. Google tracks the location of your Android device, and using this information determines where you live and work. It also tracks the routes you typically take, and then compares them with alternate routes in an attempt to speed up your commute. If you’ve recently planned a trip, when you get to the airport it will automatically show you the flight status for your upcoming flights — all of this without you ever asking for it.
The convenience of not having to request information is the selling point of Google Now, but what about your privacy? Does Google Now cross a line?
I don’t think so. Truth be told, this information is already being kept about you if you use a Google account in some capacity, regardless if you’re an Android user or not (only exception being the detailed location data). How do you think Google is able to show relevant ads to you all the time? And, when you first launch Google Now, you’re asked to opt-in to the service.
While there are some privacy controls built in, when it comes to a users information, the more control a company allows its users to have over their own information the better. The fact that Google is keeping so much information about any of its users, should concern anyone, but it’s part of the world we live in now. As we all become more connected, more dependent on the Internet to get us through each day, the more the Internet is going to know about each one of us.
Google Now simply uses the information Google is already keeping about you to make your digital life a little bit easier. If you find the service to be a bit on the creepy side, as some will, you can always turn it off. Keep in mind, though, turning it off won’t stop Google from keeping a log of information about you — you might as well take advantage of it.