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Google: We'll pay you to track the Web sites you visit

The search giant is offering a series of gift cards worth up to $25 if you allow it to monitor the Web sites you visit and how you use them.

Psst...Wanna earn 25 bucks? Here's an offer from the folks at Google.

The search giant is promising up to $25 in Amazon gift cards if you let it track the Web sites you visit and how you use them. Through a new project known as Screenwise, you install a browser extension that monitors every site you check out.

Google's stated goal is to find out how everyday people use the Internet in an attempt to help it improve its own products and services.

Those of you not shy about sharing your Web sites can score a $5 Amazon gift card when you sign up and download the Screenwise browser extension. You're then eligible for another $5 card for every three months that you stick with the program until the $25 max kicks in. However, the company is thinking about what further amounts it could add for people who last more than 12 months.

According to Google, "it's our way of saying 'Thank you.'"

To launch the project, Google is teaming up with Knowledge Networks, a company that rounds up panels of people to conduct online research.

To grab the deal, you have to be 13 or older, have a Google account, and use the Chrome browser. But before you try to jump on it right now, Google says it's already overwhelmed with interest and is advising people to come back to the Screenwise page at a later date for more details.

But apparently there's more to Screenwise than just the $25 browser extension project. A more extensive and expensive option asks you to set up a data collector router and then install the Chrome extension on each computer you use, says Ars Technica.

In return for collecting Web site data on every PC in your home, Google will pay you $100 just for signing up and $20 a month for as long as you participate, maxing out at a full year. Though similar to the $25 project, this one will look at different types of data.

Though Screenwise is strictly opt-in, the project comes at an odd time when Google is on the hot seat over changes to its privacy policies.

The company is facing flak from privacy groups and has been forced to defend itself in front of Congress after announcing that it would share user data across all its services.

Reviewing the legal agreement displayed upon sign-up, Ars Technica found that Google will share the data collected through the router program with third parties, including "academic institutions, advertisers, publishers, and programming networks." Some of that data will be personally identifiable except for secure HTTPS traffic and private browsing sessions. The Chrome extension will track private browsing but won't identify the data collected with the actual user.

People who do join the program remain in control over which Web pages are tracked. Using the Chrome extension, users can pause the metering or they can log out of Chrome and simply use a different browser, which would prevent any tracking.

Google also responded to CNET's request for comment with the following statement:

"Like many other web and media companies, we do panel research to help better serve our users by learning more about people's media use, on the web and elsewhere. This panel is one such small project that started near the beginning of the year. Of course, this is completely optional to join. People can choose to participate if it's of interest (or if the gift appeals) and everyone who does participate has complete transparency and control over what Internet use is being included in the panel. People can stay on the panel as long as they'd like, or leave at any time."

Updated 9:15 a.m. PT with response from Google and further details on data collected.