A photograph from Google headquarters, circa 2006. (Mark Lennihan / Associated…)
Google Inc. is looking for a few good Web surfers. But just a few.
Last month the company launched a market research program called the Screenwise Project, in which it hoped to follow a small group of people as they made their way around the Internet.
The program is totally voluntary -- similar to TV market research in which people have a box on their television -- and Google is offering to give participants up to $25 in Amazon gift cards for allowing the company to track the way they use the Internet.
And to quell any lingering fears about loss of privacy, people who sign up are free to opt out at any time, according to a statement from Google.
That's not a bad deal, especially to those of us who already assume everything we do on the Internet is being monitored anyway.
To become a Screenwise panel member, you must be at least age 13, have a Google account, or sign up for a Google account, and use the Google Chrome browser while searching the Web.
"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," a Google spokesperson said in a statement emailed to the Los Angeles Times. "People can stay on the panel as long as they'd like, or leave at any time."
Google's goal is simply to understand its customers habits better and to use this understanding to improve Google products and services.
You know. Like any marketing panel.
And if you're wondering if anyone is interested in signing up, the answer is a big fat YES.
Too many people, in fact.
Google's Screenwise panel page ends with a statement in bold that reads, "We appreciate and are overwhelmed by your interest at the moment. Please come back later for more details."