Google's frightening patent: collect data and interact with others automatically on your behalf

Martin Brinkmann
Dec 1, 2013

Social Media has grown quite a bit in recent time, with apps readily available at all times to inform users about new posts, photos, and other information at all times.

A lot of what is happening on sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Google+ is based on user reactions. Users visit the site on the web, use one of the clients, or use a third party app or service that offers integration of some form or another.

There are options to post automated messages, and many webmasters use them to promote their latest articles without having to do so manually.

Companies such as Google have started to experiment with automation in recent time. The company's Chrome browser for instance tries to predict the next network actions by pre-loading contents that users may access, while Google Now, Google's personal assistant software, delivers information to the user by predicting what the user wants.

Automated generation of suggestions for personalized reactions in a social network

A recent Google patent goes a step further than that. It describes a system that will generate a personalized reaction on behalf of the user. Initially only in the form of suggestions that are displayed in an interface, but ultimately automatically on the user's behalf.

The system will collect and analyze as many bits of data that it can find about the user and his interaction on social media sites. These information are not only taken from sites such as Google+, but also from emails, visited websites, SMS and other sources available to the various collector modules that the patent describes in detail.

The goal here is to understand how the user interacts on social media sites and other forms of communication, which is done by analyzing prior reactions to content.

A method for generating a personalized reaction, the method comprising:

collecting, using one or more computing devices, interaction items associated with a first user and accessible to the first user from one or more data sources, the one or more data sources including a social network, the interaction items including an online user post and a user reaction;

processing, using one or more computing devices, the collected interaction items to produce one or more labels for the collected interaction items;

ranking, using one or more computing devices, each collected interaction item based on the labels and based on the first user's prior reactions to other interaction items and the respective labels of the first user's prior reactions;

determining that the online user post satisfies a threshold likelihood of being important or interesting to the first user;

and automatically generating, using one or more computing devices, a suggested personalized reaction to the online user post on behalf of the first user, the suggested personalized reaction based on one or more labels associated with the online user post.

While this is certainly impressive from a purely technological point of view, it may raise the alarm bells of some Internet users.

Not only does the system collect information about the user, it also analyzes them for behavioral clues, creates a profile of the user in the process, and may post for the user eventually.

Google seems to be predestined for this, as it can collect information from its social network Google Plus, from its email service Gmail, from its web browser Google Chrome, Google Search, and all the other products it has access to.

For some, this is a scary though while others may embrace the new technology with open arms. What about you?


Tutorials & Tips

Previous Post: «
Next Post: «


  1. Sean said on December 2, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    A weird brainchild of Google!!!!

  2. Dave said on December 2, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    Kind of put me in mind of the 2006 film ‘Click’.
    As I remember that didn’t turn out too well for the user. Turns out the best part of our life is freedom of choice.

  3. Dario said on December 2, 2013 at 9:58 am

    So much for Google’s “Don’t be evil” slogun. This only strengthens my suspicions on what ‘they’ are trying to do. To create a supercomputer (quantum computer already in the making) and algorithm (Google’s on it) that can simulate and eventually predict human behavior. What’s the use of that? Just like a scientific formula, if you want to have a certain outcome, all you need to do is change the parameters and the formula will make sure that outcome is reached. Imagine the possibilities of a system that can tell you exactly what conditions need to be met in order to reach a certain outcome. In a sense this idea is written in the book ‘the foundation’ by Isaac Asimov.

    1. InterestedBystander said on December 3, 2013 at 12:16 am

      See this article on The claim is that data analysis can be used in certain situations — counter-insurgency, musical composition — to model certain aspects of human behavior.

  4. tom said on December 2, 2013 at 7:32 am

    Google is the Umbrella Corporation. If you value privacy stay away from them.

    Gmail alternatives:

    DuckDuckGo or StartPage for search.

    block their analytics tracking with Ghostery addon.

  5. Prem said on December 2, 2013 at 6:05 am

    The world can use more automation.. At least then people will pull their stupid faces off the social media sites and look at the world..

    1. Nebulus said on December 2, 2013 at 11:35 pm

      You might have a point here :) But I think that is wishful thinking…

  6. Gregg DesElms said on December 2, 2013 at 5:53 am

    No one — no computer, no person, nothing — gets to write so much as a single character as if it were me. No one. Not on paper. Not online. Not scratched into asphalt with a rock. Nowhere.

    It’s as simple as that, really. No. I’m saying “no” to anything appearing anywhere above what is, in effect, my signature; using my identity. It’s identity theft, actually. I believe criminal law applies.

    Gregg L. DesElms
    Napa, California USA
    gregg at greggdeselms dot com

    Veritas nihil veretur nisi abscondi.
    Veritas nimium altercando amittitur.

    1. Wow said on December 2, 2013 at 10:46 pm

      Between this comment, and then reading your website, I have never seen or heard of a more pretentious d-bag in my life.

  7. wayfarer said on December 2, 2013 at 2:29 am

    For ages I was cynical about Google (esp Google+), Facebook, Twitter, etc. But I went with the flow and used them – though ensuring they held as little data about me as possible. But every day they all seem to think of new ways to get the gullible to accept their lives aren’t complete unless they’re typing into their PCs and tablets every time they fart, subjecting themselves to raw datamining in the process, and agreeing to conditions they’ve never read and seem en masse to care little about.

    I’ve now withdrawn from the lot. I don’t miss it. I most especially don’t miss those people who regard it as a necessity of life – I’m happy never to hear more from most of them. I managed my life well enough for decades before social networking arrived, and – curiously – I seem to be managing perfectly well now without it.

  8. Kulm said on December 2, 2013 at 2:25 am

    Why don’t people just delete their Google accounts and
    starve this privacy shredding beast?

    1. Transcontinental said on December 2, 2013 at 1:48 pm

      Kulm, this is what I regularly tell myself, and it’s worth for Facebook as well.
      I really believe that, besides or above the ethic approach there is a matter of madness in the way a certain perception of the cyber world is moving on. What makes me really worry is the attitude of users who do not want or are unable of seeing the reality, that of their lives totally translated to data. Even with a great deal of resistance I believe is more known of ourselves than we can possibly presume. With no resistance one can hardly imagine what it get’s up to …

  9. Rick said on December 2, 2013 at 2:08 am

    Perhaps this is a system Google will use to create fake personalities to make their G+ or other interactive platform seem more robust and busy. If your goal is to get more people into your system so you can turn them into marketable data to sell to other businesses, what better bait could their be than the perception that it’s the popular place to be?

    People walking down a street lined with restaurants are likely to perceive the places that seem more busy to be ‘better’ in quality. It’s no different when you stroll down the virtual roads where Google, Facebook and others have their storefronts and lure you in with freebies.

    Just remember, if you’re getting a service from Google etc for ‘free’, you are not their CUSTOMER, you are their PRODUCT.


  10. Nebulus said on December 1, 2013 at 11:42 pm

    This is really retarded… Why would you use a form of social media where your friends’ opinions are automatically generated by an algorithm?

    On a different note, in the worst case scenario, every one of the users will be in fact an algorithm, and this way the Google’s advertising will reach no real person anymore. It is totally counterproductive for them to use this…

    1. InterestedBystander said on December 2, 2013 at 12:49 am

      Nebulus, I suppose that Google’s algorithm will map social posts onto user preferences, and this will at some point be used for real-world marketing. How intrusive will that be? Dunno. I’m a dunce in understanding this, really. But maybe, if Asus has a Google account and Lenovo doesn’t, after you post to a friend that you’d like a better laptop, Google will serve up only Asus ads to you. That’s a “soft” form of buyer coercion: you’re not blocked from looking at Lenovo, it’s just not stuck in your face on every third page you visit.

      I’ve written it before: I use some Google services. For me the services are worth trading the browsing habits I choose to reveal. My “secrets” in this regard are pretty darned trivial, to my mind. (I may be underestimating, but I don’t think so.) If I choose not to reveal browsing habits, it takes a lot more than not using Google services. There are a hell of a lot of online tracking, and they’re omnipresent. I’d use TOR, and a zero-cookie, no-Javascript, zero-information-sharing browsing configuration. That breaks a lot of interactive websites, including the comments on this one. It’s a choice.

      1. InterestedBystander said on December 2, 2013 at 1:37 am

        Actually, I think advertising like I mentioned above is already prevalent. Not thinking clearly, sorry! Google’s patent mentions explicitly using the content of social network posts, and that implies harvesting social-network postings and storing that data in a user-keyed database. Not sure how prevalent the storage and analysis of user posts (as opposed to browsing records and cookies) was before this?

  11. berttie said on December 1, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    I try and stay as far away from Google as I can. “Do no evil,” BS!

  12. InterestedBystander said on December 1, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    So, the benign part: a casual acquaintance of mine receives a Google-generated birthday note from me. Well, that’s not a bad thing I suppose. But what if items start showing up in “wish lists” on shopping sites, items I never put there but which Google thinks I might want? This would be a “service” that Amazon might pay Google to “provide” — obviously a service not to me but to Amazon. One can imagine all sorts of marketing lubrication which would be possible using Google’s predictive response engine.

    I think the message is, as always: keep control. Don’t use social media if you don’t want Facebook, Google+, et al, to use you. If you’re worried about social-media tracking, share stuff other ways. If you don’t mind exposing info, fine. Unfortunately, choosing to try to minimize info capture requires awareness, and I suspect a lot of casual users don’t yet understand the how-and-why of these choices.

    Thanks for the essay, Martin — this issue needs a lot of exposure.

  13. imu said on December 1, 2013 at 6:49 pm

    …and you can get premium (paid) account so they will take care of your posts to be more sophisticated,smart and clever :) This idea is already worth billions.

  14. imu said on December 1, 2013 at 6:30 pm

    Wow,impressive! Soon you will have all those social accounts live their own life then you get yourself disconnected and go fishing while the other you browsing internet, sending emails, shopping online just to feed “collectors” with data so they can be sure you are still alive :)
    “Idiocracy” is seriously coming.

Leave a Reply

Check the box to consent to your data being stored in line with the guidelines set out in our privacy policy

We love comments and welcome thoughtful and civilized discussion. Rudeness and personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please stay on-topic.
Please note that your comment may not appear immediately after you post it.