Can fears about Google’s ‘total information’ approach be solved by a clear log in request?

Far be it from Google to court controversy, but it appears that CEO Eric Schmidt has captured the imagine of MSM (mainstream media) with his thoughts on how one of the world’s best known brands will predict our every need and want with products like iGoogle.

Hell, even the Independent got all tabloid with a front page splash on how ‘Google is watching you’.

“The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as ‘What shall I do tomorrow?’ and ‘What job shall I take?'” says Eric.

Despite the implications, I’m still surprised at the widespread reaction to this story. The front cover of the Indy, sure, but second lead story on the cover of the Financial Times? Please.

Has everyone forgotten this very same debate back when MSM first caught on to the story of how ad networks used cookies to personalise browsing experiences?

That said, the advice back then was simple – don’t accept cookies. Although everyone’s a bit hazy on how Google’s new wotsit works, it looks like user sessions will be tracked and recorded to improve a user’s experience – all without the need for cookies.

You know what? I don’t care. In fact, I think it’s a Good Thing.

It matters not a jot to me if Google is furiously scurrying its duck legs under water to make my life easier. If I can spend less time wading through poorly written websites, then bring it on.

This is nothing new, Yahoo has offered a personalised ‘AI’ like service on its music services for years. Log in, play music, rate the tracks as you go along and soon, you’ll have your own video jukebox tailored to your tastes.

But – and it’s a big but – Yahoo makes a point of asking you to log in to optimise the service. Would we have an iGoogle type reaction to the Yahoo service if it suddenly started predicting my music tastes without me asking it to? Call me naive but I want the peace of mind that I’m logging in before my details are recorded and tracked.

There’s a word missing from all the stories I’ve read in the MSM’s stories about iGoogle – transparency. Clearly tell users what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. If it’s for the good of the advertiser AND the user then say so. Hell, even go so far as making a big deal of the service on the log in page and explain how it’ll improve my browsing experience. Watch me sign up!

Empower the user to improve their session and they’ll love you for it, even if it does comes at the cost of being served super targeted ads for ipods and Lynx deodorant.

So, well done to Google on the PR assault – just back it up with a dedicated and transparent set of terms and conditions on user’s log in pages.