Google TV not a data gold mine--yet

Data on television viewing habits on Google TV won't be collected by Google, although Dish Network customers will have to share to get enhanced features.

Tom Krazit Former Staff writer, CNET News
Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.
Tom Krazit
3 min read
Google will be able to see what you search for on Google TV, but it won't track your actual channel-surfing, according to its privacy policy.
Google will be able to see what you search for on Google TV, but it won't track your actual channel surfing, according to its privacy policy. Screenshot by Tom Krazit/CNET

For now, anyway, Google TV won't tell anybody about your tendency to flip back and forth between infomercials unless you agree to share.

In most cases Google TV will not collect data regarding the television shows users watch through the broadcast half of Google TV, according to the privacy policy for the new service. At least, it won't right away: Google said the current version wasn't designed to track that kind of data but a future version might be able to do so.

There is a catch for Google TV customers of companies like Dish Network, which has a special partnership with Google that unlocks additional features. Users will have to agree to share data about their viewing habits collected by Dish Network with Google to take advantage of those enhancements, such as the ability to search your Dish Network DVR from inside Google TV. Google also said that other television providers "typically do collect user data relating to channels tuned and content viewed through their services," but that's done separately from Google TV.

Google also said it has disabled the part of Google Chrome on the Google TV software that allows users to share their location. It also reserved the right to allow users to share their location in the future but promised to provide options to disable that feature should Google decide to push it live.

The decision to limit data collection underscores the balance Google is trying to draw between gaining traction for the software by calming fears about privacy and making money on the service. Good data about television viewing habits is notoriously hard to come by, and there's a sizable portion of the marketing world that would be willing to pay up for better data about potential customers, much the same way they're willing to fill Google's coffers with cash to place targeted text ads alongside search results.

Google has avoided questions about its long-term plans for advertising on Google TV, as well as how much data it plans to collect as the service rolls out. Judging by the policy, it's taking a measured approach to data collection with the software.

Still, it's a Google product, conceived and developed by one of the most data-hungry corporations on the planet. And so naturally Google plans to track a few things under the terms of the policy.

It will be able to see what people are searching for using the search bar in Google TV, and whether they click on those search results, which can include broadcast TV shows, Web videos, and DVR content for Dish Network subscribers. It will be able to tell simple things about how people are using Google TV, such as whether they are spending more time watching regular old TV or using the Web applications and browsers.

A Google Account is required to use Google TV but it doesn't have to be the one that you use with your Gmail or Google Apps accounts. In fact, Google TV requires you to log into Gmail or other Google services again even though you're already logged into Google TV, and you can use the same Google Account or a separate one, which could be useful for families or roommates that want a house Google TV account but still use their individual accounts to access e-mail or YouTube.

And Google will use information about your device to help content companies enforce what Google called "security limits," which sounds like how the Web sites of broadcast networks like ABC and CBS knew to block Google TV devices from streaming certain episodes. (CNET is published by CBS Interactive, a division of CBS.)

Finally, Google advised users that "we may share non-personal aggregated information collected through the Google TV Platform with our business partners and certain other third parties." That appears to include the basic data about usage habits and search queries.

Google TV has only been available for a few weeks. Google announced plans to give away 10,000 devices to software developers today, starting with 3,000 devices given away to attendees at the Adobe Max conference.