Thousands Flock to Google's New Nielsen-Like Panel

  |  February 9, 2012   |  Comments

Latest offering from Google could prove privacy perception is reality.

At first glance, the timing of Google's new web tracking panel may seem odd, considering recently heightened concern about its privacy policy changes. The program will operate like traditional panel-based web measurement systems run by Nielsen and comScore, but it's attracting criticism and privacy questions.

Google just yesterday introduced Screenwise, and already has collected a sufficient supply of panelists. Thousands agreed to participate in the small market research panel before Google closed the doors to new entries, at least temporarily.

The system, which offers people Amazon gift cards in exchange for allowing the company to collect data on their browsing habits, will help Google get a better grasp on time spent on certain websites, which times of day people are online, and other information.

For instance, Google could now know how long someone visits sports content on a newspaper site. The company will not combine the Screenwise data with web history data and other information collected when people are signed in and using Gmail, YouTube, or other products.

The data gathered via Screenwise could help Google's sales team provide better insight to advertiser clients on how users browse the Internet and how to spend more efficiently to reach them.

Google is partnering with Knowledge Networks to manage the panel. To participate, users need to install a Chrome browser extension. At anytime participants can stop Screenwise tracking by enabling the Chrome "incognito" private browsing feature, or by simply using a different browser.

Google also unveiled a device-based survey panel program that requires participants to connect a black box type tracking device on their home Internet networks that will measure all Internet use regardless of what browser is being employed.

The two programs are separate, so don't expect Google to combine the online panel data with data gathered through the devices.

Nielsen and comScore both use panels to measure web usage, and Google has worked with both firms to supplement its own research in the past. Neither Nielsen nor comScore has been subject to serious consumer or regulatory scrutiny in regards to online privacy issues. Yet despite the fact that Google's initiative appears quite simliar to these well-known programs, headlines today about Google offering a pittance in exchange for user privacy abound. The company's decision to unveil the Screenwise program amid an uproar over recent privacy policy changes has some questioning Google's timing.

Earlier this month the company said it would condense 60 of more than 70 privacy policies associated with its products into one simpler policy, enabling enhanced cross-platform data tracking. The announcement caused a stir among U.S. legislators and European regulators, but Google will still proceed with its plans.

Looking ahead to a possible future in which new regulations prohibit cookie-based web tracking, Google's survey-based program could help it maintain fresh pools of data.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.

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