Commentary

A Google Search Chip Inside The Brain

Google BrainExperts tell us the most successful change comes from within. Perhaps that's why Google looked internally when trying to fix what some might consider consumer privacy issues. On Friday, the Mountain View, Calif., company said it appointed Alma Whitten as director of privacy across engineering and product management to focus on building effective privacy controls into products and internal practices.

Appointing a person to head privacy will become more common as technology advances and companies move to create a structured underbelly of the Web through social signals and features. Soon we will see teams of privacy experts in companies like Google to guarantee that government and citizens who use its services are satisfied with processes to protect privacy.

Google also said in a blog post that all employees have already received orientation training on Google's privacy principals and are required to sign Google's Code of Conduct, which includes sections on privacy and the protection of user data. And, beginning in December, all employees will undertake a new information security awareness program, which will include clear guidance on both security and privacy.

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Google needs to look internally because the policy of asking consumers to provide more information, so the search engine can serve up information with increased relevancy, won't change. Anonymous searches are not as accurate to answering specific questions, especially for those around location. So, as more consumers give permission to provide information on data preferences, protecting information that search engines use to serve up content will become increasingly critical.

Today, we Google things on computers and on mobile phones, but in the future you might Google something in your head through an implant, which would create a new set of privacy issues. That idea originated from a discussion between editors at the Atlantic magazine and Google Chief Economist Hal Varian days prior to a follow-up discussion with Eric Schmidt led by the Atlantic editor at the Washington Ideas Forum. Varian's thoughts on an implant that allows people to search for things by thinking about them led the Atlantic editor to ask Google's CEO during a follow-up interview days later if he believes Varian's concept could become a realistic prospect within the next 10 years.

"The Google policy about a lot of these things is to get right up to the creepy line but not cross it," Schmidt said. "I would argue that implanting things in your brain is beyond the creepy line. At least for the moment until the technology gets better."

The more information consumers provide Google, the less typing they will need to do. With the searcher's permission, Google knows where the person is, lives, and can, sort of, "guess what you're thinking," so is that over the line? It is part of what Schmidt calls "augmented humanity," allowing computers to do what they do best and humans do what they do best.

Implanting search devices in someone's brain isn't an unrealistic concept. People have implanted radio frequency identification (RFID) chips in their body, giving themselves physical access to a location without the need for a key. Humans have RFID chips planted under their pet's skin for identification purposes if they get lost. The animal protection agency calls it pet identification, but the implant is a RFID chip.

A Google search chip inside the brain augmented by advertisements or sponsors isn't as far-fetched as some might think. But can you imagine contracting a computer virus in a human body?

Join me and friends at MediaPost's Search Insider Summit, Dec. 9, 10, and 11, in Deer Valley, Park City, Utah to continue the discussion.

3 comments about "A Google Search Chip Inside The Brain".
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  1. Kevin Pike from Kevin Pike, October 25, 2010 at 3:02 p.m.

    Appointing a Director of Privacy, to implanting search devices in someone's brain. That's pretty far-fetched Laurie.

    RFID chips communicate a static messages to external computers. It' like a BlueTooth remote, just instead of putting on a key-chain you have it under your skin. Not even CLOSE to "brain implants".

    People need to stop taking Google CEO Schmidt so literally on these privacy statements, and realize he is having fun at the media's expense.

    For example, 'If you don't like Google Street View taking a photo of your house, move.' or, 'change your name if you don't like your current online identity' ... these are all things the media has blown way out of proportion. This article is just one more.

  2. Juliette Cowall from Godwin Plumbing & Hardware, October 26, 2010 at 2:29 p.m.

    "... while doctors could implant a chip today, wiring it to the thought process would require more intelligence than is populating the planet currently ..." it's being done ... an article in the WSJ this morning talked about a chip being implanted (that is wired to the thought process) that controls a kind of scaffold/exoskeleton to help para- and quadriplegics regain physical movement. It may not be in humans yet, but it seems there is enough intelligence currently populating the planet to be able to wire a chip to the thought process.

  3. Laurie Sullivan from lauriesullivan, October 26, 2010 at 7:48 p.m.

    Awesome Juliette Cowall! Thanks for pointing us to that article. Perhaps, my 20 years covering technology and nearly seven years in semiconductors and emerging technologies will pay off in the long run to better cover advertising and search.

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