Google Building a Cross-Platform, 360-Degree View of Its Users

Earlier this week Google brought the Chrome browser to Android handsets (Android 4.0 only). It's reportedly faster than the current Android browser. Beyond this it promises consumers a number of benefits. Among them integration with the PC version of Chrome -- if you're signed in to your Google Account. 

This was the vision for mobile Firefox, before the arrival of mobile Chrome: tabs and bookmarks on the PC browser would automatically be available on your smartphone. But Firefox mobile has very limited adoption in mobile. A full version of the Firefox browser isn't permitted on the iPhone and Chrome is likely to marginalize its chances for adoption on Android handsets. 

The integration of PC and mobile browsers clearly offers convenience for consumers. It also offers competitive and strategic value for Google, as well as powerful potential features for Google advertisers.

A parallel development, Google has changed its privacy policy to simplify a bunch of disparate policies and make them more coherent (going into effect on March 1). A byproduct of this change, and the availability of Chrome as a mobile browser, is that Google will have a nearly "360-degree" view of its users. 

All Android owners must have Google accounts. All Google account holders are being required to create profiles online. And Google is increasingly seeking to connect the dots. 

In the wake of the new privacy policy, Google will collect and associate all user activity on Google properties with registered Google Accounts. The information Google collects and analyzes will include but not be limited to the folowing:

  • Mobile device information
  • Search queries and sites visited 
  • Cookie and pixel data 
  • Your physical location at any time
  • Name, email, credit card information (if provided) 
  • Telephone numbers called and call duration

According to Google's new privacy policy:

We may collect device-specific information (such as your hardware model, operating system version, unique device identifiers, and mobile network information including phone number). Google may associate your device identifiers or phone number with your Google Account.

While Google says that nothing has effectively changed, the new privacy policy says that Google will potentially be mining much more data from its user base.

To receive the full benefits of mobile Chrome, users will have to be signed in. This will allow Google to see their movements from PC to mobile and all the corresponding activity on each platform. That data will provide Google with an incredible trove of information.

Google search and display advertisers will be granted a never-before-available cross-platform view of users and be able to target them as they move between screens. Users who begin product research on the Web and continue on smartphones in stores would be largely invisible to the majority of sites and online advertisers. But under the new system Google (and by extension its advertisers) will be able to "see" that movement, and consider the larger context and history in deciding which ads to serve. 

Clearly the targeting and tracking capabilities of a cross-platform view of consumer behavior are very powerful. They may result in a better experience for many users but may also "creep out" others. It will also be difficult for competing ad networks and platforms to duplicate the data and targeting that Google will be able to deliver. Facebook is the only other entity, perhaps, with the capacity to match this personalized, cross-platform view of its users.