Google’s industrial espionage potential

Business / Musings

We all know that Google “reads” all gmail. Let’s assume for now that all commercial Google Apps content is secure and not viewed by Google. What may not have occurred to you is that, like Slice Intelligence who have recently been in the news for extrapolating Apple Watch sales data from willing users’ email accounts — this means they can tell what you are buying, and this is incredibly valuable information.

They do this primarily for serving you the finest organic, artisanally selected ads no doubt, but it also gives them immense information superiority that affects Apple, Amazon, Samsung and others. Google can reasonably extrapolate from the number of Apple Store related emails how many gmail accounts are Apple IDs and calculate the ratio of their users to the published total number of Apple Store/iTunes accounts. Sounds far-fetched? Dream on. You do know that GCHQ and the NSA have done commercial communications monitoring for decades? Of course people are now applying data mining to this.

Unless it has sprouted some hitherto unknown ethical scruples (you do recall the cause of Apple going thermonuclear on them?), Google has a very good idea how many iPhones, Apple Watches, Amazon Kindles and Samsung “Galaxy whatever they’re called” are being sold as a result of this information.

Not only this, they know how much and which content you are purchasing from those and similar companies. All those order confirmation e-mails are looking like a massive seam of gold industry intelligence which people like Slice Intelligence are actively trying to get in on, too late perhaps and spoiling the fun for Google by showing what is possible publicly.

Apple, Amazon and friends must be pretty pissed about this privately. It also opens up the possibility of stock manipulation by Google. I’m not saying this is happening but it would be very interesting to know of any stock holding intermediaries Google uses. You know; just to be sure. One can’t help but think that they could use emails that confirm online trades to anticipate where the market is going.

For the purpose of balance: iCloud mail could obviously do the same, but Apple do not have the free mail account ubiquity of Google Gmail, and typically iCloud mail users are not going to be buying many products from competitors. All the value in this kind of mining is for Google.

The Author

Marc Palmer (Twitter, Mastodon) is a consultant and software engineer specialising in Apple platforms. He currently works on the iOS team of Concepts sketching app, as well as his own apps like video subtitle app Captionista. He created the Flint open source framework. He can also do a pretty good job of designing app products. Don't ask him to draw anything, because that's really embarrassing. You can find out more here.