Google's Account Activity technology was announced on Wednesday. It's a neat little tool for people that want to track their online activity. But it could also have an effect on our attitudes toward using its online services and how frequently we access them.
If you opt in, Google sends you a monthly report summarising your use of its bevy of technologies, breaking down the web searches you've made, the Gmail messages you've sent and received, the places you've accessed your account from and the places you've checked into via its geo-intelligence service, Google Latitude. More of its services will be integrated over time.
But how does the addition of some data about your consumption of Google's services get you to search more or send more Gmail messages? The answer could lie in the fitness industry and how one little gadget has made people take more steps in a day than they did before they had access to the information on their physical activity.
My take is Google hopes Account Activity will make those among us that regularly use the internet use its services more. Why? Fitbit. Fitbit is a smart pedometer that has been adopted by my friends, family and colleagues. It tracks your physical activity throughout the day and lets you view the information yourself and, if so inclined, share the data on social networks. Most people who have used the technology have told me that once they know how many steps they take in a day, they're inclined to take more.
Account Activity gives some of us yet another reason to go online and search more frequently.
If you're the type of person who uses the internet regularly and likes to understand how you interact with it, then access to Account Analytics will be to the data-obsessed what Fitbit is to the fitness aware. Once you see how many web searches you've made in a month, my bet is you'd like to see that number go up.
Similarly, you'll track who you send the greatest amount of messages to and be inclined to manipulate this (surely you should be sending more messages to your line manager, rather than your friends, or vice versa?), and the easiest way to manipulate the figure is to send more messages, not less.
Account Activity is part of Google's attack on our concept of digital restraint and sits alongside its social network, Google+ and mobile operating system, Android, as another way for the company to get us acclimatised to living our digital lives within its systems.
In Google's ideal world, we'd be going to its services all the time, letting it maximise the ad revenue and intelligence it extracts from our activity. Account Activity gives some of us yet another reason to go online and search more frequently.
And, like chief rival Facebook, Google is doing it not by forcing us into using the service more, but by preying on basic human psychology to make it seem natural to use the technology — after all, once you have statistics on a part of your life, you'll be inclined to manipulate them. Online, it's easier to manipulate the figure by doing more, not less, because that's how the technology is engineered.