In early December, Google sent out thousands of free laptops as part of a program to test Chrome OS, an operating system that relies on the Internet for all its software applications.
Computers running Chrome OS don’t let users download data or install applications. Instead, everything happens in the cloud. So the laptop—called the CR-48—needs very little storage space, but it requires a constant Internet connection, and it has 3G wireless connectivity built in.
The design of Chrome OS changes such fundamental things as where a user’s data resides and how it is managed. It also gives Google access to an unprecedented amount of user data. The company hasn’t said how it will use this information, but some clues can be found in the company’s previous products and in the rights it has reserved in the Chrome OS terms of service.
Google makes the vast majority of its billions of dollars of annual income by delivering advertising tailored to its users’ behavior and interests as revealed by their searches, the contents of their e-mail messages, and their browsing history. Chrome OS could take this to the next level.
“With Chrome OS, Google can obtain deeper system information like specific user behaviors, if they wanted to,” says Daniel Cawrey, an IT analyst and editor of thechromesource, a website that has been tracking the development of Chrome OS.
Google’s terms of service give it the right to use the information it collects for advertising purposes if it chooses to head in that direction. The terms note that “some of [Google’s] services are supported by advertising revenue and may display advertisements and promotions. These advertisements may be targeted to the content of information stored on the services, queries made through the services, or other information.” They go on to specify that Google can at any time modify or extend how and when advertising is delivered and that users must agree to let Google advertise in consideration for granting use of its services.