HolidayBuyer's Guide

Google offers to track your music habits

Google is listening; but only if you want it to.

The search giant is now offering to track the music you listen to on your computer, then publish that information anonymously for anyone to view. The new Google Labs program is called Google Music Trends.

In order to participate in voluntary eavesdropping, you must have a Gmail account and download Google Talk, Google's 1-year-old instant-messaging program. Once logged on to Google Talk, add a check mark next to the Google Music Trends option in its Settings menu.

Each time a participant listens to a song on Apple Computer's iTunes, the song information is registered by Google Music Trends via Google Talk. The program also supports Nullsoft's Winamp, Microsoft's Windows Media Player and Yahoo's Music Jukebox, according to the Google Music Trends Web site.

Google refers to this tracking as casting a vote, but more specifically, Music Trends monitors and collects information on the music you listen to on your computer.

The information is compiled so that anyone can see at any given moment what people in the United States are listening to. (It is not yet up and running for other countries.)

Google Music Trends lists the top artist and song choices broken down by genre, as well as their movement in popularity on the chart. The identity of individual listeners and their music choices are confidential on the public pages. The specifics of the artist and songs each subscriber listens to, however, are listed on their personalized search page.

That is because opting in to the Google Music Trends setting on Google Talk automatically enables Google Personalized Search. This program automatically tracks an individual's Google searches, much like a Web browser tracks a person's URL history. With Google Music Trends turned on in Google Talk, Personalized Search tracks and keeps a history of the music. The lists can be accessed from a person's Google search history page.

Google, for its part, is very up-front about the tracking and does offer some privacy options. Listeners may share with Google Talk buddies what they are listening to by changing their "available" notification to "show current music track" while opting out of Google Music Trends altogether. Google also offers directions for shutting off Personalized Search while still participating in Google Music Trends.

One can only imagine that this new tracking would be extremely helpful to advertisers, which can target the latest CD to the people who are listening to that artist's other work. But with Google Music Trends, the listeners are also the advertisers. All of the songs and artists listed are linked to Google Music Search, which also links to online music stores where one can purchase the song or listen to a sample.