Are You Paying Attention to Google?

A year ago the subject of attention wasn’t getting much, well, attention. But that has been gradually changing, due in part to the efforts of (disclosure: I’m on the AttentionTrust board, although I write this post as an individual), and also due to the growing realization that big players such as Google are benefiting from data that you generate for them.

In a previous post I described how companies such as Netflix benefit from your “attention data” (that is, information about what you’re paying attention to) by recommending products based on what you’ve already purchased. That seems pretty obvious, but it may not be so obvious as to why a company like Google would want this information.

In Google’s case, I think they’re facing problems due to clickfraud, splogs and link spam in general. While Google certainly employs ways to protect page rank from link spam, it’s an uphill battle, and it’s got to be something that their advertisers are (or soon will be) concerned about.

For this and other reasons, what Google really needs to know is what people are actually paying attention to – not just what they’re searching for, but also what they’re clicking on and reading. This is where something like their Web Accelerator comes in handy, since it passes your page requests through Google’s servers, giving them a way to find out where attention is being paid.

In general, I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with this as long as there’s no deception about what’s going on (and Google does make it clear that traffic is passed through them). But I also believe that you need to seriously consider whether you’re being fairly compensated for what you’re giving up.

Does Google’s Web Accelerator benefit you enough to give them your attention data? In my case the answer is no, but I’d be willing to trade my attention data for free wireless access in my home town. Of course, your answer may vary depending not only on how valuable the compensation is, but also on whether you agree with the way aggregated attention data is being used.

The other thing you need to be concerned about is whether you can get your own attention data back. This is where most of the current crop of attention gatherers fail the test, since few of them provide any way for you to get the data they’ve collected in a way that enables you to use it outside their service. I’m not cynical enough to attribute this solely to greed, though – it may be because they don’t personally identify the data they collect, or that they haven’t considered giving back this data simply because very few people have asked for it.

If you’d like to persuade more companies to share this data with you, then I hope you’ll consider joining The more people we have on board, the easier it will be to convince attention gatherers to not only give you access to information they’ve collected about you, but also to provide fair compensation for it.

13 thoughts on “Are You Paying Attention to Google?

  1. You know, maybe it’s that I’ve been trying to cut down on coffee, but I just couldn’t understand why Google would “give away” so many things–their motives. They are, after all, a public company with their bottom line in mind.
    Now it all makes so much more sense. Thanks!

  2. I don’t have a attention span but while talking about getting your own attention data back i think its illegal for any corporation to track my individual web usage

  3. It may be a long wait – I still haven’t received one from maybe a week ago (though I haven’t checked back to see itf there was a problem at the time)

  4. Update:
    I have been contacted, so if anyone else see’s this that’s been waiting, be assured you haven’t been forgotten.
    Just an infrastucture change that’s caused a delay for some of us.
    Thanks Ed!

  5. Nick, this is an insanely good description of why AttentionTrust matters. Hope you don’t mind, but I’ve re-posted the whole thing at the AttentionTrust blog.
    And Yvonne and Steven, I apologize for the delay in processing your AttentionTrust memberships–I’m the Executive Director and currently the only staff member, so it’s taking me longer than I’d like to keep up with the applications as we get our infrastructure in place. You should hear back within a few days at most. Thanks for your patience and your support of AttentionTrust!

  6. As long as it’s aggregated and not personally identifiable, I don’t really care about my attention data. Nor would I expect to get it back since once it’s aggregated, they can’t identify me anyway. This seems like a very nebulous issue, maybe I’m just not understanding what you think I’m “giving up”.
    I don’t find this type of information that useful overall. Just because at one time I did a search for “Cat 5 cables” or bought a book about “trees” doesn’t mean I have a long-term interest in these things. I probably had one specific problem with the cable and trees and now that it’s solved I don’t need to be recommended tree books all the time. I’d rather have some control over which parts of this data are “really me” and which parts are just transient searches/purchases/interests.

  7. Maybe someone can write a well thought out letter to Tim B. Lee encouraging him to convince Jimmy Wales to create a non-profit, open source version of
    Firefox, IE could integrate it into their next browsers like Flock is doing and if you found a SpamBlog you could click a little icon of a can of spam and it would get tagged spam. The search engine could use that info to better rank results.

  8. I have a very basic question: How do they label the collected data ? Do they use some exceptionally good and proven data mining and cleansing techniques to do that (people except Goog especially)?
    The curiosity here is about mapping a particular data set to a persona and then use that persona to identify surfing habits? This rings some bell. Has anybody ever heard of “Purple Yogi” or remember them ? They had( or have, if they still exist) a similar motive back in 90s

  9. Do I have your Attention. And for how long?

    Who owns the information about where you go, what you look at, or do, or for how longon the internet? The information’s valuable. It allows advertisers to target you. it allows outsiders to understand your interest and personalities. It …

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