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Has Google been poking through your Gmail?

A post at Problogger (linked on Digg) may be providing Web pundits with a new reason to overuse the term "Orwellian"--Problogger guest poster Alister Cameron recently did a bit of digging into the patent application for Google's Blog Search product to find out how exactly it ranks posts. But Cameron's post also managed to reveal some tidbits that Google critics may find to be somewhat of a warning signal. According to the wording of section [0044], Google has the ability to trawl your e-mail and chat transcripts--in other words, Gmail and Google Talk--in order to figure out which blogs and blog posts are being talked about the most.

Here's what it says in the patent application: "References to the blog document by other sources may be a positive indication of the quality of the blog document. For example, content of e-mails or chat transcripts can contain URLs of blog documents. E-mail or chat discussions that include references to the blog document is a positive indicator of the quality of the blog document."

Okay, yeah, Google has a point that such data could be helpful. And Cameron stressed in the blog post that he "(doesn't) know if they actually do that or not," and that he "(hasn't) gone hunting thru their terms of service seeking clarity." So perhaps Google isn't searching for those blog links, but it could.