April Fool As part of its ongoing mission to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible," Google has launched a new effort to scan every person on earth and put them on the interwebs.
Dubbed Google People View, the project is underway in multiple American cities, including San Francisco, New York, Las Vegas, Miami, and Denver. In airports, train stations, parks, arenas, government buildings, and public restrooms across each city, Google is operating multi-million-dollar kiosks where registered Google users can create a reasonable facsimile of themselves via motion capture and digital photography and upload it to the company's servers.
"After the rise of Facebook and Second Life, it's the next, natural step," Google's Marissa Mayer writes on the Official Google Blog. "These services have shown there's tremendous value in virtualizing your real world identity. And now, with People View, registered Google users are empowered to virtualize more of their real world identity than ever before."
As part of the announcement, Google has vowed to open source its People View APIs, so that you can share yourself with other companies as well. But Mayer stresses that Google will only share you with the services you agree to be shared with. "Google cares about privacy," she says. "The user decides who has access to their online digital self (ODS) and can revoke access at anytime. We will not sell your ODS, and we will not share your ODS with anyone unless your specifically ask us too."
Naturally, the company also intends to serve ads against you. "At Google, we believe that ads are a valuable source of information — one that can connect people to the advertisers offering products, services and ideas that interest them. By making ads more relevant, and improving the connection between advertisers and our users, we can create more value for everyone," Mayer explains. "Granted, we can't actually put you in the same room with an advertiser, so they can look you up and down, as much as they like, whenever they like. But with People View, we come very close."
For example, Google global privacy counsel Peter "No Neckties" Fleischer told The New York Times, a People View advertiser could serve weight loss ads directly to fat people. "Our image analysis algorithms can identify the middle-aged male physique, with its shrinking shoulders and protruding paunch," he explained.
Privacy watchdogs have questioned the ethics of physical ad targeting. But Fleischer stressed that People View is opt-in only. "Google cares about privacy," he said. "We won't capture your physical likeness unless we can completely convince you that's a good idea."
And Fleischer is confident that the online masses will happily embrace the project. "After all," he said, "our users already share their search queries with us and their email and their personal documents and their calendar data and their photo albums and even their health records. Why wouldn't they share their physical likeness?"
Speaking at tech conference this morning in London, Meyer was asked whether the sheer volume of personal data collected by the company might be cause for concern. But she quickly dismissed such talk. "No," she said, "Google cares about privacy." ®