Google Now Gets Even Creepier (and Why That’s a Good Thing)

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Google Now, a virtual assistant that comes standard on the newest versions of Android, is digging ever deeper into users’ data in an attempt to be more useful.

Its latest trick is the ability to pull up a digital boarding pass on your smartphone for United Airlines flights the moment you arrive at the airport. The digital boarding pass includes a QR code to scan at the gate along with information on the terminal, gate number, seat number and boarding group. (More airlines will offer this feature eventually.)

If you’re an iPhone user, this may sound familiar. Apple’s Passbook feature in iOS 6 can also bring up boarding passes for select airlines. But there’s a key difference: With Passbook, you’ll need to install a separate mobile app for each airline you travel with that lets Apple’s service pull in the data. Google Now retrieves boarding passes from Gmail, so only need to have them e-mailed to you when checking in–no extra apps required.

Your Gmail data provides other fodder for Google Now as well. As of October, Google Now looks for flight confirmations, so it can automatically notify you of upcoming flights and changes to your itinerary. And in the latest update, Google Now looks at where you’re going, and tells you how the weather will be when you get there. The service can also remind you of hotel, event and restaurant reservations so you needn’t go fishing for the address, and when you’re at home, it can show you tracking info for packages you’ve ordered.

Perhaps the whole thing is a bit creepy, knowing that Google is fishing through your e-mail for various kinds of data. But that’s the point. Google Now is supposed to be automated, so when you open the Google Search app, all the information you need is right there. If something’s really important, you’ll get a notification without having to visit the app at all. Google Now wouldn’t be as helpful if it wasn’t helping itself to our data.

Besides, if Google Now’s Gmail mining makes you uncomfortable, it’s easy to turn off. Just open the Google Search app, go to Settings > Google Now and uncheck “Show cards based on Gmail.” Or you can turn off Google Now entirely from that same menu. (For many Android users, it’s a moot point anyway, because Google Now is only available on Android 4.1 or higher. The vast majority of Android phones run an older version of the operating system.)

Google Now’s new features are, as Sean Parker once put it, “good creepy,” whereas bad creepy would be something like Google’s secret collection of Wi-Fi network data. Although Parker was talking about Facebook and frictionless sharing, what he said rings true for Google Now as well: “Today’s creepy is tomorrow’s necessity.” As long as Google Now continues to provide adequate user controls, and is clearly using Gmail data to make a better virtual assistant, it should help itself to whatever it needs.

8 comments
BrickinaWall
BrickinaWall

What a great ad for Google. What a poor article. Yes let's trust the corporation with all our private data. Let them do all of the thinking for us. Google has already proved that they act criminaly with our data. What ever happened to the right to privacy, and why does the author imply that if you do not accept this technology, there is something wrong with you? "Neccesity"?, whose?

Those who gave their lives to protect our liberties must be turning in their graves.

Swanny246
Swanny246

I flew with Virgin and used Passbook... didn't need an extra app. Just tapped a link in an SMS message that took me to a web page, and it asked to add my boarding pass to Passbook :)

Logical__Thinker
Logical__Thinker

Excellent article... I couldn't agree more. Data mining is a tool that can be used powerfully for good, and Google is doing it right with Google Now. This integration of the consumer's information is the future, unless inaccurate paranoid concerns prevent this simplification of our lives. Tech applied like this offers the potential to continue to advance our society while making life simpler instead of more complex.

dgmoodey
dgmoodey

@BrickinaWall Ummm... You don't have to use it if you don't want to... I think your just a troll... What does this have to do with War Heros!??! Go troll somewhere else 

BrickinaWall
BrickinaWall

@Logical__Thinker 

Like any tool it can be used for both good and bad. Why would anyone trust Google (or any other corporation) to do good? Good is relative. Good for the company is not always good for the consumer.

Simplifing our lives by turning off our brains is, well stupid. Just like those many people who follow car GPS instructions into rivers and down the stairs at subway stations. 

Please explain the inaccuracy of the privacy concerns that many people have. 

Finally, even you use the term "mining". This implies digging up something of value. Why would anyone give away something of value for free to make the corporation richer? Perhaps because articles like this make it seem "normal".

Where was my $100 from the Facebook IPO? Did you get yours? Didn't think so. 

This is a bad article because it paints a one-sided picture of an issue without even a semblance of well-rounded journalism. In short this is an advert for a company disguised as an article. 

BWAcuff
BWAcuff

@dgmoodey @BrickinaWallWhen did your inability to comprehend valid concerns and subject-appropriate colloquialisms come to be the definition of "troll"? 

And you don't have to use it?  Are you positive about that? Have you been to youtube lately? Good luck getting Now off an Android phone or disabling its launch gesture.