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Is Google Now making your smartphone too smart?

gadgets Updated: Oct 08, 2012 12:34 IST

Google Now will push information to Jelly Bean Android users based on preferences, search history and physical location.

Anyone with a smartphone that runs Jelly Bean, the latest version of Android, (Google's latest estimates put it at 0.8 percent of Android users worldwide) might have noticed that since their operating system has been upgraded, their phone has started sending them information. Be it bus timetables, the specials at a local restaurant, or sports results, index cards are appearing on the screen without being asked for but somewho relating exactly to what the user was thinking about.

What they're experiencing is Google Now, which many in the tech community have dubbed Google's answer to Apple's Siri. But apart from the fact that both have been designed to optimize searching on handheld mobile devices, they're quite different. Google Now, which was showcased in June but is only now getting into users' hands, does recognize some voice commands but it draws on users' preferences, search history, calendar entries, email and physical position -- rather than requests -- to send things that it thinks are relevant to the user at that moment in time. As the promotional video puts it: "With the predictive power of Now, you get just what you need to know, right when you need it."

And, with all Google products, the more that people use it and finetune it, the more accurate and more timely it will become. Google is still the world's most popular search engine and its suite of online documents (recently renamed Drive) plus its Gmail email accounts and ever improving maps applications mean that the experience could soon feel like having your mind read.

Some have quite rightly questioned whether such a service crosses a line in terms of privacy. Tech blogs such as BGR has dubbed it a 'psychic stalker version of Siri, ReadWriteWeb has highlighted the company's change to a unified privacy policy (introduced in March) which now allows it to use and aggregate information about users across all of its services and products (unless you opted out of the agreement). Likewise, UK newspaper The Guardian has suggested that as the company grows and its products mature, managing the organization could become an impossible task. And, as smartphone applications such as virtual wallets become the norm, the level and depth of information is only going to increase.

But for many more of us, it won't take long before Google Now becomes such an integral part of our lives, that we'll be prepared to live with the intrusion.