Google’s sinister new project gamifies data mining

Google has launched a fascinating, and controversial, project – an augmented reality game called Ingress. In it, Android device users move through the real world collecting pockets of energy, which can then be applied, to real quests in the free game.

Ingress is an interesting prospect for advertisers. The link to real businesses and locations gives them substantial scope to reach people with highly localised, targeted advertising. If the prospect of a Foursquare on steroids doesn’t concern you, other potential developments of this product might.

Despite claiming to not “be evil”, Google is a multi-billion dollar business and doesn’t just give away exciting new technology out of the goodness of its heart. I’m sure that comes as no surprise. Why should it? So while Ingress advertising could produce another interesting revenue stream for Google via advertising, the uncomfortable truth for users is that ultimately it wants to use this product to get more data.

The game constantly wants to know a player’s GPS location. As Michael Carney explained on PandoDaily last week:

“To capture a Portal, and harvest the “energy” contained therein for his respective team, a user must physically go to a location and check in. Additional energy is available by traveling specific walking paths, bike paths, and inner-city routes dictated by the company, all while the user’s Android device is transmitting GPS and accelerometer data. In some cases, the user will be required to photograph locations or objects along these routes.”

For privacy savvy users this should be setting all sorts of alarm bells ringing. Google have basically built a game that turns players into human StreetView cars. It has gamified data mining, and probably run roughshod over all sorts of privacy concerns to do it.

As BetaBeat point out it’s hardly the first time the Silicon Valley giant has tried to pulled such a stunt. Back in 2007 they did it with the spoken word Yellowpages service GOOG-411:

“Marissa Mayer, then-VP of search products, explained that GOOG-411 was collecting spoken syllables in order to build out its speech recognition tool, now employed widely across Android devices.”

Of course, it’s easy to see how Google could justify the project in less sinister terms, and dismiss those of us raising concerns as being paranoid.  They would say that Ingress is a gamem and interesting produc that has great potential for raising ad revenue as discussed earlier. Furthermore, with Project Glass developing, Ingress fits into the more compelling augmented reality experience Google are clearly keen to create.

Throughout their history though Google have developed a strategy to create products that are free, fun, and bring in as much data as possible. With Android they have put tracking devices into a huge number of people’s pockets. Ingress is the key next component in that approach.