Google Just Bought a Company That Snoops on Your Chats

Google just bought another online communications channel it can fill with ads.

The tech giant confirms it has acquired Emu, a startup that offers a kind of instant messaging tool. The price was not disclosed, but Google’s interest in the company isn’t hard to divine: Emu has built a system that can monitor chats, infer what people are talking about, and insert relevant links—including ads.

Emu, which has been subsisting for two-and-a-half years on venture funding, doesn’t insert such ads today. Instead, it uses its monitoring tools to identify certain other information that might be helpful to you. For example, if you’re chatting on the Emu service and the other person types something about getting lunch, Emu might suggest nearby restaurants or show the mid-day schedule from your calendar. But it’s a very short leap from such information to commercial promotion. A nearby cafe might pay for ad to appear every time the word “coffee” comes up in your chat.

The Emu buy is part of a much larger trend to monitor and thus profit from new chunks of people’s lives. Foursquare just rolled out a new version that, by default, tracks your movements continuously, negating the need for a “check in” button. Google, meanwhile, isn’t just interested in chats; the company has said that it may eventually show ads on internet-connected home devices, such as thermostats.

A NEARBY CAFE MIGHT PAY FOR AD TO APPEAR EVERY TIME THE WORD “COFFEE” COMES UP IN YOUR CHAT.

Emu fills a growing hole in Google’s ad offerings. Google mines search terms and emails for advertising purposes, but not yet chats. As people shift their computing to smartphones and other mobile devices, chatting—short, immediate, and part of phone culture for decades—has become more popular.

Read More