With the explosion of the internet, as well articulated by John Battelle as "The Database of Intentions" users' search activity defined them.
As time went on, Google started to build up a more and more comprehensive understanding of their users - not only via their search activity (Twitter now included) but via many other Google services - mail (Gmail and now Google Wave), Google Maps, Blogging (Blogger) RSS (Google Reader), Video (YouTube), Photos (Picasa) personal profiling (Google Profiles and why Google wants you to Google yourself), as well as interaction with advertising and marketers via DoubleClick (and now AdMob) and Google Local.
While the Google corporate philosophy of Don't Be Evil is still the informal corporate motto - the opportunity for inappropriate use of PII (Personally Identifiable Information) is very real and privacy advocates are right to push very hard for transparency into permission settings, the collection and usage of user data via cookies and other means.
The era of PCs (Personal Computers) and the broadband internet has given rise to a new mass media. As defined by Tomi Ahonen, the internet was the sixth of the mass media. We have now entered the era of the seventh mass media - mobile and the implications for user data collection are profound.
For detailed coverage of the mobile opportunities check out Communities Dominate Brands.
The world of PCs (Personal Computers) has now evolved into PCs (Personal Communicators) - mobile computers in the palm of your hand. This is going to profoundly shift power from the legacy content companies who previously controlled mass media via the creation and distribution of content to the new tech-media companies, such as Google. These new media companies are less focused on the creation of original content but are intently focused on the creation and consumption of content by users.
Knowledge is power and in the world of digital media that power comes from user data.
The noise on the internet today that Google is about to sell its own phone direct to consumers is, I believe, the next piece of the puzzle that Google needs to put in place to truly understand user behavior and profiling.
WinTel - (Microsoft and Intel) dominated the PC industry over the last 2-3 decades - however the telecommunications market dwarfs the PC market and Google is aiming to be its leader.
For the last few years Google executives have made it very clear that mobility is their future - mobile search, a mobile bowser and a mobile operating system. Coupled with a move into hardware - smartmobile devices (smartphones, smartpads etc.) control over mobile software and content distribution could give Google a near monopolistic position in user data.
The foundations have been laid - Google has established a dominant brand for internet search - it aims to repeat that for mobile search. Even more interesting is their recent move in the telecommunications space - not only via their Android operating system, which is starting to gain momentum and also their goals for Chrome as a mobile browser - (eventually the two will probably fuse so that the benefits of both will be available on mobile devices) but now Google is looking at services and hardware.
Following their acquisition of Grand Central and its evolution to Google Voice - Google is rapidly rolling out a VOIP service that, in additional to voice calls has features such as voicemail, call history, conference calling, call screening, blocking of unwanted calls and voice transcription to text of voicemail messages. This fast growing service was recently extended to allow you to use your existing number for certain Google Voice features.
So what might be the next move by Google - a Google phone that is not tied to any carrier ? A new service where you could transfer your existing number ? Potentially free handsets and call services supported by advertising ?
But, I don't think it is really the services that Google is really going after - it is you.
Your mobile phone number, is probably the most important number after your social security number. Unlike email addresses, which we collect by the dozen, we very rarely change our mobile number - it's with us for life.
Mobile is rapidly going to become our most important mass media - in addition to the benefits of the previous mass media, mobile has unique attributes that cannot be replicated by the previous mass media - Tomi Ahonen lists the following:
Mobile is the first personal mass media
Mobile is permanently carried
Mobile is always-on
Mobile has a built-in payment mechanism
Mobile is available at the point of creative inspiration
Mobile has the most accurate audience measurement
Mobile captures the social context of media consumption
Mobile allows Augmented Reality to be used in media
The mobile phone will be the remote to your physical and digital lives, always carried, always on. It knows where you are and what you did - it's a record of your life, your interests and intent. It's uniquely personal and it defines you.
You are your mobile number. Your mobile number is your personal profile.
The user data smartphones can amass is a marketers dream. It should be no surprise that Google wants to get hold of your information..
If you decide to let them have it, you might also want to ensure you are in control of how they use your data. After all it's personal.