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Google Plus You Equals $$$$

Use Google Plus with all your friends! It surely
wasn’t created for the sole purpose of spying on your Internet habits./U.S. Government

It is one of the great Internet mysteries of the last few years: Why does Google Plus still exist? The search engine company’s social network launched in mid-2011 and most people who signed up to “check it out” stopped using it several hours later in mid-2011. Since then, the only people I’ve seen actively promoting their Google Plus (or shall we say Google+!) accounts are the couple of people I know who work for Google Inc. So why hasn’t Google Inc. shitcanned this clearly failed rival to Facebook already?

Because while you may have stopped using Google Plus, Google Plus hasn’t stopped using you. In fact, you’ve been a great product for Google Plus!

Five-hundred-some million people have Google Plus accounts, mostly because using Gmail or YouTube or whatever other web-based software requires you to set up a Google Plus account. You, reader, probably have a Google Plus account and don’t even know it, aside from the occasional “Check out what you’ve missed on Google+” emails the infernal company spams you with from time to time. And since you’re logged into it pretty much all the time, this helps Google track everything you do on the Internet to make you a clearer target for advertisers. The New York Times writes:

But Google isn’t worried. Google Plus may not be much of a competitor to Facebook as a social network, but it is central to Google’s future — a lens that allows the company to peer more broadly into people’s digital life, and to gather an ever-richer trove of the personal information that advertisers covet. Some analysts even say that Google understands more about people’s social activity than Facebook does.

The reason is that once you sign up for Plus, it becomes your account for all Google products, from Gmail to YouTube to maps, so Google sees who you are and what you do across its services, even if you never once return to the social network itself.

Before Google released Plus, the company might not have known that you were the same person when you searched, watched videos and used maps. With a single Plus account, the company can build a database of your affinities.

The true star of the piece is a certain Bradley Horowitz, the vice president of product management for Google Plus. As the piece goes into detail describing how Google Plus is just a more comprehensive method for the company to hoover up as much of your information as possible, there’s Bradley Horowitz, ready with the glib bizspeak quote to suggest that no, this product is actually about helping you. “Google Plus gives you the opportunity to be yourself, and gives Google that common understanding of who you are.”

It’s unclear how some web thing that you’re logged into automatically, forever, without you ever “using” it, “gives you the opportunity to be yourself.” What does that mean? You’re just logged into some bullshit while browsing the Internet. This next part, however: “. . . and gives Google that common understanding of who you are.” Now we’re chewing on something a bit meatier — as in, an admission from Google Inc. that Plus mostly exists to gives the company a better “understanding” of you. What videos you watch, what porn you search for, what you type to your friends in little chat boxes. Opportunities abound for everyone . . . but mostly Google.

Again, our man Horowitz: “It’s about you showing up at Google and having a consistent experience across products so they feel like one product, and that makes your experiences with every Google product better.” For the user, that means, uh, those recommended videos on YouTube or something that people never watch? For Google, however, this means that, “Thanks to Plus, Google knows about people’s friendships on Gmail, the places they go on maps and how they spend their time on the more than two million websites in Google’s ad network.” Again, though, this is all about you!

If there’s a complaint to be had with this Times piece, though, it’s just that Google was already doing these things before Google Plus came around. As Slate explains, “Google was on to you long before Plus ever came along, and your central Google login could endure if Plus were to suddenly disappear tomorrow.” So take comfort. Even if Google does decide to eliminate Plus at some point, the company will still offer you plenty of opportunities to be yourself.