If you're visiting the Google I/O developers conference this week, you're a tiny part of a giant Google experiment to sniff out everything from your body heat to your breath. Google is even listening to your footfalls
as part of its Data Sensing Lab I/O 2013.
Think that's a scary, Big-Brother invasion of privacy? The conference attendees I talked to didn't seem to mind. In fact, one wanted Google to collect even more data.
Google planted 525 powered sensors around the halls of San Francisco's Moscone Convention Center, and began collecting data from them on Wednesday, according to Michael Manoochehri, a developer programs engineer at Google. The company began measuring temperature, humidity, light, pressure (including nearby footfalls), motion, air quality and both RF and ambient noise. All of the data is sent back at intervals of 20 seconds or so, collected by Google's App Engine, with analysis performed by its BigQuery Big Data analysis tool. You can see the results at the Lab's dedicated Web site.
Among other things, Google's I/O developer conference has focused this year on improving developer tools and better integrating the services that it already owns via a more intelligent cloud. The unnamed sensor project, part of Google's Data Sensing Lab, encompasses a bit of all of that. By itself, knowing that the air quality diminished at 4a.m. might be intriguing, but not all that significant. But by correlating that information with a peak in another data stream - ambient noise, say - it becomes possible to guess what's going oin; in this case, perhaps, the arrival of the cleaning crew.
Manoochehri said that Google could build in queries against the sensor network into its Google I/O app, to identify the quietest spots on the floor for a phone call or a brief nap.
Crossing The Creepy Line?
It's probably fair to say that attendees of Google I/O give Google a bit more leeway than the general public. That certainly proved to be the case for those sitting near the sensors. Alan Holzman, a retired venture capitalist who last worked for Intel Capital, shrugged it off. "My life is tied to Google in much more significant ways," he noted.
Ditto for Sam Napolitano, who was covering Google I/O for the Huffington Post. Napolitano said he believed that the sensors were probably picking up on the NFC tag embedded within his name tag - something that Google employees said wasn't true. In any event, Napolitano said, he didn't care, as he had no expectations of privacy in a public space. "As long as it's not under my toilet seat, I don't care," Napolitano said of the sensors.
And "Rachid," an employee of Motorola Mobility who declined to give his last name, said he wanted to Google sample more data. More data and more correlation often derives more interesting results, he said, such as the various causes of depression.