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Google ScreenWise: Consenting to Surveillance Capitalism

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Google has further blurred the lines of corporate invasion of privacy with the introduction of Google Opinion Rewards, a survey app for Android and iOS users that allows them to earn “rewards.” In exchange, Google gets access to the phone screens and web browser windows of those who use the app. Rather than fool regular users to accept secretive corporate “research” behind lengthy terms and conditions and hidden app permissions, Google disguises the overseeing function of  Opinion Rewards as “metering”—a “funny word for surveillance,” Sydney Li and Jason Kelly of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) report.

Nearly 800,000 Android users to date have downloaded the program with hopes to earn anywhere from $0.10 to $1.00 per survey, or an estimated $100 a year. Dozens of third-party blog posts and YouTube videos targeted at Opinion Rewards users share the best ways to earn quick money in large sums from the program. The questionable ethics behind Opinion Rewards, however, does not lie in the legitimacy of its pay, as users are “rewarded” through the trusted online payment company PayPal, but more so in the exchange Google offers.

Opinion Rewards is segmented into two services, “Surveys App” and “Audience Measurement.” The former is an app, available for download on both the Google Play Store and App Store, that encouragers users to complete surveys from “opinion polls to hotel reviews, to merchant satisfaction surveys.” The latter, more dystopian option requires registered households to install the ScreenWise mobile app and web extension which monitors internet usage. Google encourages, but does not require the installation of their “TV Meter,” which monitors television usage through a built-in mic, and an Opinion Rewards router, which provides the registered household with internet and further tracks internet usage.

The ScreenWise Meter is, according to a Google marketing advertisement, used to “help us understand what people like and don’t like…it’s this information which helps us make Google’s products and services more useful to you.”

While it’s been widely reported that corporate giants such as Google and Facebook can track our every move, listen to our conversations, access our smartphones’ cameras, and even collect our Social Security number without our permission, Google’s Opinion Rewards marks a shift in corporate surveillance, with  responsibility for opting-in shifted onto the surveilled user in exchange for twenty-dollar gift cards and other “rewards.”

Sources:

Sydney Li and Jason Kelly, “Google ScreenWise: An Unwise Trade of All Your Privacy for Cash”, Electronic Frontier Foundation, February 01, 2019, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2019/02/google-screenwise-unwise-trade-all-your-privacy-cash; reposted on Common Dreams, February 4, 2019, https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/02/04/google-screenwise-unwise-trade-all-your-privacy-cash.

Lee Dami, “Google Also Monitored iPhone Usage with a Private App,” The Verge, January 30, 2019, https://www.theverge.com/2019/1/30/18204064/apple-google-monitoring-phone-usage-screenwi se-meter.

Student Researcher: Fabrice Nozier (Drew University)

Faculty Evaluator: Lisa Lynch (Drew University)

Daniel Christof

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