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Do you care about your online privacy… at all?

Or are you happy to sell it for as little as $25? Thousands of people seem prepared to let it all hang out for a few dollars… or maybe they’re simply playing Good Samaritans to change the online experience for the better.  

In the midst of the outcry triggered by Google’s new privacy policy, the giant is running a rather controversial project. Launched at the beginning of the year, the Screenwise experiment called for web users to join a research panel and help Google make their products better. All they had to do was to enter their e-mail address, use only Chrome for browsing the web and install a browser extension that would help them track users’ every move. What would joining panellists receive in return? $5 worth of Amazon gift cards for enrolling in the project, as well as every three months, totalling up to $25 in Amazon gift cards a year.

Is your privacy worth only $25?

When I found out about the project, my first reaction was: who would really want to give up their online privacy for some gift cards worth of up to $25? I even started a survey among my friends and colleagues to see how many would give up their privacy for some gift cards. To my surprise, the result was 50/50 and I received some arguments for their choices, too:

Arguments for

Be the change. Do not oppose it.

  • It’s only natural for Google, as every web and media company, to do market research. Screenwise is only a virtual focus group where people willingly give up their privacy, in order for Google to analyse their online behaviour and improve, based on their findings, their services if necessary. If you’re not satisfied with some of the services Google provides you with, then this experiment might actually prove useful. The reward you’ll get will be much higher than the gift cards and you’ll have the satisfaction of being part of a great change.
  • With all the online tracking web companies are already doing, does it really matter if Google gets hold of some extra information about your behaviour?

So, you actually have nothing to lose.

Arguments against

Googles gives back. And gets more.

  • Would the giant really start giving back to its people for their loyal web searches? Well, it would. If that meant earning even more money. Clearly, more information about web users also means more targeted ads popping up at every single search. And more money from advertisers. Targeted advertising may not bother some people, but others would really get annoyed.
  • A more detailed explanation about the project would have been nice. You have to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. “We want to track your behavior and see how we can improve our search services” it’s kind of vague. What if what you consider to be an improvement, for me it is actually a drag? For a company advocating for transparency, the real benefits of the user are not so transparent.
  • Up to $25 in gift cards. Really? While other companies spend big money on focus groups and market research, the giant can only afford that? It’s unfortunate. Motivation zero.
  • Only Chrome? Google would also benefit from users using only its browser.

So, yay or nay?

The other day when I checked the Screenwise landing page, out of simple curiosity, I got my answer – lots of people would give up their privacy for some gift cards worth of up to $25. The landing page announced that Google could not receive any more participants due to the overwhelming number of submissions. And the project has already received more than 11 000 +1s! (see the +1 icon in the screenshot below)

Google Screenwise


If this experiment is just Google trying to find out whether regular users are bothered with the privacy issue, we can only speculate. Truth is, the experiment appealed to lots of users and it seems like even more were willing to give up their privacy, in exchange for little attention from the giant.

Did you sign up? If not, if you still had the chance, would you do it?

Filed under: Online Privacy

Written by Emma Ban

More articles by Emma Ban

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