Google buys chat app that spies on you to serve ads (Wired UK)


Emu


Google just bought another online communications channel it can
fill with ads.

The tech giant confirms it has acquired Emu, a startup that offers a
kind of instant messaging tool. The price was not disclosed, but
Google’s interest in the company isn’t hard to divine: Emu has
built a system that can monitor chats, infer what people are
talking about, and insert relevant links — including ads.

Emu, which has been subsisting for two-and-a-half years on
venture funding, doesn’t insert such ads today. Instead, it uses
its monitoring tools to identify certain other information that
might be helpful to you. For example, if you’re chatting on the Emu
service and the other person types something about getting lunch,
Emu might suggest nearby restaurants or show the mid-day schedule
from your calendar. But it’s a very short leap from such
information to commercial promotion. A nearby cafe might pay for ad
to appear every time the word “coffee” comes up in your chat.

The Emu buy is part of a much larger trend to monitor and thus
profit from new chunks of people’s lives. Foursquare just rolled out a new version that, by default, tracks your
movements continuously, negating the need for a “check in” button.
Google, meanwhile, isn’t just interested in chats; the company has
said that it may eventually show
ads on internet-connected home devices
, such as
thermostats.

Emu: Texting Grows UpEmu

Emu fills a growing hole in Google’s ad offerings. Google mines
search terms and emails for advertising purposes, but not yet
chats. As people shift their computing to smartphones and other
mobile devices, chatting — short, immediate, and part of phone
culture for decades — has become more popular.

Google’s popular “Hangouts” app seems a perfect home for Emu’s
monitoring algorithms, particularly once the Emu chat service shuts
down on August 25. The fit between Emu and Google looks even better
when you consider that Emu co-founder and CEO Gummi Hafsteinsson spent five years at
Google before founding Emu.

Google’s Android mobile operating system could also benefit from
the deal. Emu’s technology could monitor not just Hangouts but also
incoming text messages on Android phones and use the phone’s full
capabilities — its calendar access, contact list, location data,
and so forth — to be even more helpful to users. Hafsteinsson
designed such a system in his two years at Apple, when he was a
manager on the Siri virtual iPhone assistant.

Though Emu could help Google smartphone users, it is also poised
to further erode their privacy, putting one-on-one communication
under centralised monitoring by a third party. Once upon a time,
chats were considered too humdrum to deeply analyse, even if they
were easy to intercept. Those days are gone.

This article originally appeared on Wired.com

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7 August 2014 | 12:25 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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