A long time ago, Google determined how to figure out users’ online behaviors and use them to provide better ads and search results. But now with the release of Google Now, the company stands to figure out still more information about its users—enough information that Google can not only provide tailored information, but that it could use to even predict your future search wants and needs.

Scary, isn’t it? Or is Google on to something useful? You be the judge.

Google Now vs. Apple’s Siri

Google Now began as an alternative/competitor to Apple’s Siri, a mobile, voice-activated virtual assistant. Both responded to commands using as natural a language comprehension as the services could muster. Siri started it all, but Google Now has since become the leader of the pack, having scored higher in most areas on test searches performed by Gene Munster, Apple and Google analyst for investment bank and asset management firm Piper Jaffray.

Google Now vs. Apple’s Siri

What Google seems to excel at is identifying what is known as natural language, which means deciphering the meaning of search terms that are more in line with how people naturally talk and ask questions. This can mean whether or not the search engine can determine that a movie quote should bring up information about that movie rather than information about the wording of the quote itself. For example, “Show me the money” could either bring up information about the film Jerry Maguire or information regarding money itself. This is one example of how natural language must be decoded in the two search engines’ mobile (and now desktop) platforms.

How Google Already Determines Your Online Behaviors

For a long time, Google figured out how to monitor users’ online behaviors in order to provide better, more relevant search results and more targeted ads. One way they do this is to keep tabs on the search terms users type in when they perform Google searches. Another is to follow exactly which sites they click on after the search results are posted.

Besides monitoring actual searches, Google will glean information from your emails and Google+ to inform their search results and ads. They will also determine your location, either by geo-location or the city that you manually enter into its system, and provide more locally targeted search results and ads that way.

In all of these ways, Google can keep track of your online behaviors and use those results to provide you with better service as well as ads they believe would be most relevant and useful for you. But Google hasn’t stopped there.

Google Acquires Nest Labs, Inc.—And Access to Your Home Behaviors Too

Google has recently acquired Nest Labs, Inc., the creator of the smart Nest Learning Thermostat, which figures out your in-home behaviors based on when and how you use the product, and the smart smoke and CO2 alarm, the Nest Protect. What is most appealing to Google is the wealth of information and insight into consumer in-home behaviors that these products can provide. Based on these behaviors, Google can further target ads and present relevant information to those consumers connected to the smart devices.


These changes will likely feel like a violation to many people, and it may cause something of an uproar at first for Nest Labs. For now, Nest Labs, Inc. has assured its customers that it will abide by its privacy policy and not reveal customer information to third parties, but this may change as the new relationship with Google grows and changes. Consumers can opt in if they want to at this time.

How to Make Google Now Work for You

While you can choose to opt out of Google Now, if you don’t, the service actually can provide practical, useful information that can inform and enhance your searches—sometimes even before you ask. For example, if you need to locate an email with your flight number or look up the status of your flight, Google Now can find that email and information for you and present it to you on a card before you even go to search for it if the flight is coming up soon. If you have an appointment, Google will remind you when and where it is and even get you directions for how to get there the fastest in traffic. If you received an email confirming a package being sent to you, Google will track it and let you know where it is and when it will be delivered.

But Google Now may provide even more information than you might typically think of. For example, when you are abroad, Google knows because of the location of your phone, and it will automatically bring up cards for time and currency conversions, language translations for common phrases, restaurant suggestions and even lists of events that might interest you. If you are following a sports team or multiple teams, Google Now will pull up cards that provide information about scores and upcoming games.

Keeping all this in mind, it’s up to you whether you think that these search and behavior-monitoring tactics are acceptable—or even helpful—to you. These feelings will inform your decision whether or not to opt in or out of these services now and in the future. We all know Google won’t stop here, as its level of innovation has to continue to increase to stay on top of its competitors, and for most of us, it may be difficult to even imagine just where Google might head next.

Carolyn Heneghan is a freelance writer, journalist and editor who loves to research and tell a great story. She currently serves clients in a variety of industries and is always looking for a new and exciting project to take on. She also loves cooking, reading, watching movies and cooking shows and cross-stitching. Follow Carolyn at Google+

Comment (1)

  1. There are some massive mistakes in this article. Google Now is the predictive search part of Google search. It was introduced in 2012 and in no way competes with Siri. Google Voice Actions / Voice Search is the speech recognition part of Google search and was introduced in 2009, long before apple even purchased Siri. Apple don’t currently have a competitor to Google Now.

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