by Kristin Burnham

Google Wants to Buy Your Privacy for $5

Feb 09, 20123 mins

What's your online privacy worth? Google looks for volunteers to relinquish their online privacy in exchange for a gift card. Were users outraged or did they take the fin? You may be surprised by the reaction.

For roughly the price of a “venti” coffee at Starbucks, less than two gallons of gas or a beer at a bar, Google wants to buy your online privacy.

According to a Google landing page, the search giant is looking for “panelists” to add a Chrome extension called Screenwise that will share with Google the sites you visit and how you use them.

Your reward for participating? A $5 gift card code when you sign up and download the Screenwise browser extension, with the potential to earn up to $25 in Amazon gift card codes by the end of the year. The requirements: just that you are over the age of 13 and have a Google account.

Google doesn’t say exactly what it plans to do with this information, other than it will help to “improve Google products and services and make a better online experience for everyone.” It also says that it will evaluate what, if any, changes will be made to gift card amounts for continuing participation beyond 12 months.

According to another report, Google also contacted users recently to install a piece of hardware on their network to do additional monitoring. Participants in the “Screenwise Panel” will receive a heftier sum of $100 for joining, plus $20 each month the household participates.

News of the project sparked outrage—and conversation—in the tech community, with many questioning why people would give up their online privacy in exchange for a measly $5, especially at a time where Facebook’s and Google’s handling of personal information has been widely scrutinized.

In a statement, Google took this to task, reminding everyone that this project is entirely voluntary:

Like many other web and media companies, we do panel research to help better serve our users by learning more about people’s media use, on the web and elsewhere. This panel is one such small project that started near the beginning of the year. Of course, this is completely optional to join. 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. People can stay on the panel as long as they’d like, or leave at any time.

The Google/Screenwise gig appears to have appealed to a lot of people. Today, it stopped accepting volunteers, posting a message that read, “We appreciate and are overwhelmed by your interest at the moment. Please come back for more details.”

What do you think of Google’s offer? Do you have a price for disclosing your online browsing habits?