Google has had a bit of a bad PR run lately and it looks like today will be yet another one of those days for the search giant. The news this morning is that a new Google program called Screenwise would pay users $25 in Amazon gift cards for letting Google and its partner Knowledge Networks track every website they visit. Participants would have to install a Chrome plugin that would transmit the data to Google's or Knowledge Network's partners.
Though Search Engine Land's Matt McGee broke this story earlier this morning, it looks like Google already registered the domain screenwisepanel.com, which features a bilingual English/Spanish version of this offer, in November 2011. The earliest reference I found to it so far, though, was this Google+ post from January 25th. Overall, then, we simply know very little about this program. We have obviously contacted Google for a statement and will update this post once/if we hear more.
Update: We just received the following statement from a Google spokesperson: "Like many other web and media companies, we do panel research to help better serve our users by learning more about people's media use, on the web and elsewhere. This panel is one such small project that started near the beginning of the year. Of course, this is completely optional to join. People can choose to participate if it's of interest (or if the gift appeals) and everyone who does participate has complete transparency and control over what Internet use is being included in the panel. People can stay on the panel as long as they'd like, or leave at any time."
Here is what we know, though:[list]
- Google is working together with Knowledge Networks/GfK Custom Research. The company, through its Knowledgepanel, has a reputation for doing online research.
- Google is testing at least 3 different landing pages for the offer.
- There is also a version that promises a chance to win $3000 in cash every month, as well as travel and other rewards. This one actually makes the whole thing look more like an online scam that a Google research product.
- the offer has been making the rounds on various deals sites for the last few days.[/list]
Overall, the sign-up sites for the Screenwise panel look more like they were put together in a few minutes by a marketing company (or maybe Knowledge Networks) than by Google. The basic stock images of happy people surfing the web don't have a strong Google branding, after all.
I can't help but wonder if Google planned to roll this panel out officially a while back but then shied away from it when it was suddenly faced with the bad PR around Search Plus Your World and its updated privacy policies. To officially launch a product like this right now, which basically pays you for giving up your online privacy, just doesn't sound like something Google would do at this point in time.