Google's splashier investments—the self-driving cars, the cyborg face accessories, the "moonshots"—might grab all the headlines. As well they should! But it's important to remember that the search giant's more ambitious projects were all made possible by a less sexy technology that, to this day, quietly makes the company most of its billions: ads.
In Google's version of the future, advertisements could literally be coming for your attention from all angles. According to The Wall Street Journal, Google sent a statement to the Securities and Exchange Commission in December, revealing that it could one day be serving ads on "refrigerators, car dashboards, thermostats, glasses, and watches, to name just a few possibilities." In the letter, which was revealed on Tuesday, Google was trying to make its case to the SEC that it shouldn't have to disclose its mobile ad revenue, since the definition of "mobile" is constantly changing.
And to an extent, Google is right. One of the lesser discussed side effects of the so-called "Internet of Things" is the open-ended possibilities it offers for advertisers. Google's acquisition of Nest Labs, for example, gives it a mainline to the intimate daily schedules and behavioral patterns of its users. If Google sprinkling ads inside your Gmail inbox made you feel squeamish, well...things are only going to get weirder.
Imagine coming home after a long day at the office. You're too tired to fuss with making dinner, and Nest's sensors—knowing you're home later than usual because of all that motion data it has gobbled up—beams a Pizza Hut ad to your Chromecast-connected television. Or maybe even your glasses. Or the Google Now voice booming through your sound system.
While some people might find that possibility awesome, remember too that others will inevitably find ambient, ubiquitous commercials kind of creepy. When does it stop? What if the first thing you hear when your alarm rings in the morning is an ad for orange juice? What if I'm in the shower? Do I really want to reminded that my L'Oréal is running low when there's soap everywhere?
It's why some legislators would rather clamp down on potential, technology-abetted abuses of power before they happen. As Electronic Privacy Information Center president Marc Rotenberg told Fast Company in January: "The basic problem with the Internet of Things, unless privacy safeguards are established up front, is that users will lose control over the data they generate."
For all the possibilities our hyper-tethered future opens up, it's the unsexy stuff like advertising that has the potential to get the messiest.