Willing participants in a study called the Screenwise Panel are paid a small fee to install routers on their home networks to monitor and log Internet activity 24/7. It's a completely voluntary opt-in service, but Screenwise serves as yet another reminder that every bit of data Google collects can be used for profit.
Google's new data collection program takes two forms. The simpler implementation of Screenwise installs a browser extension. That's worth a $5 Amazon gift card and $5 more for every three months the extension is installed. It tracks all browsing--including private or incognito browsing, though that information won't be personally identifiable.
The Screenwise router is worth $100 and $20 per month for usage, and won't track private or incognito browsing. However, all of the information Google collects, which could include personally identifiable data, can and likely will be shared with third parties.
With room for only 2500 participants, the Screenwise Panel will give Google access to a small but extremely valuable pile of data. As Ars Technica points out, the ramifications are mind-boggling:
For instance, Google could give all the info about how these people use Netflix and Hulu to TV networks. It could tell every online retailer about every shopping cart the users ever abandon. It could tell Spotify exactly how users use competing services like Rdio or Grooveshark, and vice versa. The business prospects of all that raw information are huge.
Google says the information will never be used to advertise directly to you--innocently browsing Zappos won't result in an inbox full of shoe spam. Still, imagine every single website you visit being tracked and potentially being linked to your personal information. Is that worth $20 per month?