Google is paying some to browse the Internet

Flying under the radar, mostly because of the debate over their new privacy policy, Screenwise is a much more intrusive but rewarding way Google is actively watching what its users do.

Getting paid for your online searching. Graphic from www.bing.com/central.

Screenwise is an extension for Google Chrome that directly monitors how users browse and use the Internet. The service gives the search giant valuable information about how and what users are looking.

Screenwise is a service that users have to opt into. Once users opt into the Screenwise program, they receive a $5 gift card from Amazon just for signing up. Every three months following sign-up, users will receive another $5 gift card. This rewards system continues until users have received the maximum amount Google is willing to pay their users — $25.

To put Screenwise into perspective, it is similar to TV market research, where some people have Nielson boxes on their TVs that record what shows they watch and how much they watch.

There certainly is interest in the rewards program, but Google is not taking any more applicants for the Screenwise panel. The Web page devoted to the program has the following message in bold at the bottom: “We appreciate and are overwhelmed by your interest at the moment. Please come back later for more details.”

The purpose of this program is not to stalk people and keep record of everything they do, but to see how the public uses the Internet. This will allow the search engine giant to shape its future products around trends it sees in the data they get back. For those who are concerned with privacy, once a user opts in, they can opt out at any time by uninstalling the extension.

Google is not the only one who rewards its users for allowing themselves to be tracked. Bing, the Microsoft-driven search engine, has something called Bing Rewards. This rewards system for Microsoft rewards users for using its search bar. Users accumulate points based on the number of searches they do or if they click links to recommended services. In turn, those who have joined the service receive Amazon gift cards, a free month of Hulu Plus, Xbox LIVE membership or Xbox LIVE points. Bing offers a wider selection of rewards for its users and it makes sense that users would be rewarded for searching, since companies make money with every search. Bing rewards is currently accepting new members, unlike Screenwise.

Rewarding users in return for more information about them seems to be a growing trend. Will this become the normal means for search engines and their users to interact? Only time will tell for sure, but it appears to be the way things are going.

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