Google now tracking your typing behavior. Why?

It almost seemed like an April Fools joke: Google introducing a keyboard function within the Google interface. Allegedly they introduced it to “overcome the difficulty in typing in local language scripts”. While it could be useful for people facing these problems, this doesn’t explain why they are going to push it out to such a large group of users. For example, the Dutch keyboard is basically the same as the US version. However, Google shows the virtual keyboard in google.nl. As always there’s probably a secondary goal for Google: data collection.

As Dutch SEO specialist Eduard Blacquière pointed out to me in a Tweet, this new feature doesn’t have much added value for the regular Google user. But it does provide Google with a new source for user data. Google already knows which topics you search for, what websites you visit, how you behave on different websites, which documents you own, what topics you mail, chat or Wave about and even more. But now they also want to know how you type!

Google didn’t just introduce the keyboard for Google search. It also offers a virtual keyboard API to allow usage of the keyboard on any text field or text area in any webpage. Although this feature has been available since June 2009, introducing it in Google search probably will increase the usage of this virtual keyboard across the web.

The reasons?

Only one question remains: Why would Google want to know how we type? Maybe they are just interested in determining which websites use which languages. Lots of websites forget to specify their languages. Maybe they are really interested in the way we type. Do we change our search queries (maybe because of suggestions) before submitting the query? How do we use capitals? And do we click on different results when using capitals? Do we use special characters or not?

To be fair, I cannot find a real good reason what Google wants with this information. Maybe they even don’t know it yet. However, by introducing this feature they are creating insights in a whole new part of user behavior they didn’t have access to before.

Does anybody have some other ideas of Google’s reasons for tracking typing behavior?

About Jeroen van Eck

Jeroen van Eck is a consultant search engine marketing at the online marketing company E-Focus in the Netherlands.

21 thoughts on “Google now tracking your typing behavior. Why?

  1. Like Bas noted (http://twitter.com/basvandenbeld/status/13365461000) it may have something to do with the rise of certain keyboard-less devices. Funny though how we have come to distrust Google so much that the first thing we think about with any new feature they release is how they can abuse it to harvest private data.

    All that paranoia, and so precious little evidence to show Google abusing its data dominance.

    1. Lol, Barry thinks Google will tell its users – “Hey we are so creepy that we save everything you type”!
      Google is in the advertisement business – enough said!

  2. I don’t see why this would be needed to measure rephrased queries as Google probably is able to measure that based on the search suggestions they already serve.

  3. Well… device made sense for about 10 seconds… then I remebered the device would be known so why show it unless the device had no keyboard. Also don’t see a benefit to keystroke monitoring unless it is to detect poor spellers like myself. Of course because they track me by my computer bios they likely already know… T’s spelling sucks! 😉

  4. My guess is that Google tries to enhance their understanding of often made typing errors. Yes they have the suggest box in the top “Did you mean” but they can’t know for sure when a typing error occured and a searcher ignores the suggested phrasing. Is that because of misspelling and overlooking of the suggest box or is it because the misspelling is in fact a correct not often used word. Tracking typed characters as they form words could put more validity into their choice.

    Or maybe they just want to make the auto spell corrector of Android as powerfull as e.g. the one in Iphone OS.

  5. @Barry I’m not saying Google is going to abuse it. The harvesting of all that data is one of the reasons Google is such a good search egnine. I’m actually quite satisfied about that. But that doesn’t mean we have to close our eyes for all the data they have reached access to over time.

    The development for keyboard-less devices seems a litlle strange to me. All those devices have their own solutions for that. Why would Google have to come up with a solutions that will only work where it is implemented?

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