A letter Google sent to the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2013 that only recently was discovered reveals that the technology behemoth envisions selling ads that would appear on refrigerators, thermostats or even wristwatches.
The letter was publicized recently by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which specializes in issues regarding technology and privacy. EPIC found the letter on a government website.
Google was in a discussion regarding its Form 10-K about cost-per-click revenue based on various platforms.
“It is increasingly challenging to define what exactly a ‘mobile’ platform is from period to period – and what it will be going forward. For example, initially most industry observers would have included tablets (in addition to handsets) in their definition of ‘mobile,'” the company said.
“This was consistent with our internal view, as evidenced by the fact that the mobile revenue run-rates we released in the third quarters of 2011 and 2012 included both handset and tablet revenue.
“However, as tablets gained momentum in the market, it became clear to us that their usage had much more in common with desktops than with handsets,” the letter explained. “We expect the definition of ‘mobile’ to continue to evolve as more and more ‘smart’ devices gain traction in the market.
“For example,” Google told the government, “a few years from now, we and other companies could be serving ads and other content on refrigerators, car dashboards, thermostats, glasses, and watches, to name just a few possibilities.
“Our expectation is that users will be using our services and viewing our ads on an increasingly wide diversity of devices in the future, and thus our advertising systems are becoming increasingly device-agnostic. … Because users will increasingly view ads and make purchase decision on and across multiple devices, our view of revenue is similarly device-agnostic.”
“The proposal raises significant privacy concerns for the ‘Internet of Things,'” said EPIC. “Earlier this year, EPII warned the FTC about Google’s acquisition of Nest Labs, make[r]s of a smart thermostat, that ‘Google regularly collapses the privacy policies of the companies it acquires.’
“Nonetheless, the commission approved Google’s acquisition without further review,” EPIC said.
At a blog focused on technology, Brad Reed commented: “We’ve said in the past that we’re willing to put up with some of Google’s shadier antics mostly because its services are so useful. However, a new filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission shows that Google has a new plan that could put our tolerance to the ultimate test.
“This puts Google’s acquisition of Nest into a whole different context – while Nest has pledged that Google won’t be allowed to snoop on you through your thermostat, that doesn’t mean that it won’t be able to serve you ads through your thermostat that derive from all the other data it collects on you.”
Reed said Google’s “overall vision of ‘serving’ us ads everywhere in our house doesn’t seem all that appealing.”
“For example, we’re not sure we want our Android-powered smart fridge to constantly remind us that there’s a great deal on eggs at our local supermarket and we don’t want our car dashboard showing us annoying ads that tell us how much BP really does love the environment every time we flip on the ignition.”
The reporting already has prompted Google to backtrack. It told a blog at the Wall Street Journal that the “filing” doesn’t “reflect Google’s product roadmap.”
And officials at Nest said its operations are based on a “paid-for business model,” not an “ads-supported model.”
“We just don’t think ads are right for the Nest user experience,” the statement added.
Google has a long history of pushing the envelope on technology and privacy, especially regarding ads. Wired reported recently Google’s search engine has been rolling out new and “experimental projects” that nudge consumers “as close as possible to making an actual purchase.”
The report said Google was “doing everything it can to supplant Amazon as your primary shopping engine.”