by Kristin Burnham

Google News Badges: The Price Is Your Privacy

Jul 19, 20113 mins
InternetSocial Networking Apps

You can now earn badges just by reading Google News…but there's a catch: You must allow Google to track your online activity. Is it worth it to you?

Foursquare and other social networks use them to entice users to participate more, and now Google is jumping on the badge bandwagon, too. Now when you click on and read Google News articles, Google will award you with badges that match your reading patterns and history, according to the search giant.

Google says there are roughly 500 badges you can earn right now, in categories ranging from Harry Potter to basketball. The more you read—both on your computer and on your mobile phone—it says, the higher level of badge you get. You start with the lowest level, Bronze, and move up the ladder to Silver, Gold, Platinum and finally, Ultimate.


In a blog post, Google touts one privacy feature: All your badges are visible only to you by default. Sounds good, right?

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But there is one catch: In order to receive badges for reading, you need to have your Google Web history enabled. This means you allow Google to track and record information about the Websites you visit and your activity on Google, including your search queries, the results you click on, and the date and time of your searches.

To see whether you’ve enabled your Web (and to change your preference), visit this Google help page for more information.

If you’re ready to try out the new badge system, start reading. Google says that if you read a few articles a day about your favorite topics, you should earn your first badge in about a week. When you get close to earning your first badge, Google will prompt you via a pop-up window the next time you visit Google News.


You can find badges you’ve earned in the side column on the right side of the Google News home page beneath the recent and local coverage sections.

Then, once you start accruing badges, you can opt to share them with friends by hovering over the badge and clicking one of the share icons. When you share a badge, it reveals your badge’s name and level, as well as the rough number of articles you have read about that badge’s topic. Your friends won’t see the specific articles that you have read.

According to Google, you’ll also have the option to hide specific badges from your collection. Do this by hovering over the badge and clicking the trash can. Do note that these badges cannot be restored.

While there’s no badge integration with Google+ just yet, it’s likely this feature will come in the future. According to Google News engineer Natasha Mohanty, this is just the “bronze release” of badges, so expect updates.

While the Google badges idea may seem tempting on the surface—especially for those eager to share their know-it-all prowess—the idea of Google tracking and recording my Internet whereabouts is enough for me to opt out.

What about you? Are Google badges worth the compromise in privacy? Leave me your thoughts below.

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