Google buys Emu, opening the door to make money off your chats
Google has bought the instant messaging start-up Emu, a move that positions the search giant to begin targeting users with ads in their text conversations.
The Emu instant-message system, Wired reports, can monitor chats, determine what people are discussing, and then insert links it deems helpful to users. Of course, Google could easily use this feature to get ads in front of users.
In a blog post, Emu announced that it would be joining the search giant and closing down its app as of August 25. Starting then, Emu will no longer be available in the App Store and current users will no longer be able to send, receive, or download messages using the app. Although the purchase of Emu has been confirmed, it's currently unclear how much Google paid in the deal.
Emu already bears many similarities to Google's mobile personal assistant, Google Now. Like Google Now, Emu offers tailored advice and information based on users' interests. It can let you share your location, make restaurant reservations, or schedule appointments due to an artificial intelligence engine that scans your messages and then gives you information it deems relevant to let you act on your messages.
Emu will likely find little difficulty in meshing its product with the goals of its new owner, seeing as Emu co-founder and chief executive Gummi Hafsteinsson previously worked for Google for five years, in addition to spending two years at Apple where he worked on the Siri virtual assistant.
Large tech companies are increasingly turning to chat as a main focus of business. Last month, Facebook announced that all users of its mobile app would be forced to download the separate Facebook Messenger app in order to use the chat function in the mobile app. That announcement came on the heels of Facebook hiring David Marcus, former president of PayPal, to be vice president of messaging products. Apple has also stepped up its instant-messaging game with improvements to iMessage on its iOS 8 update and new features that let users chat on multiple Apple devices and seamlessly transition from a chat on one device to another.
And increasingly, as people turn to mobile devices as their primary means for conducting business online, tech companies are seeing an increase in revenue from mobile advertising, particularly in-app advertising.
But Google's acquisition of Emu demonstrates a more recent phenomenon of tracking people continuously in order to generate profit, Wired reports. For example, Foursquare just released a version of its app that tracks users' location, constantly relaying that information to Foursquare's servers and then giving people recommendations on stores and restaurants to visit, given their location.
Similarly, Google has stated its intention to use "smart devices" – such as the Google-owned Nest digital thermostat – as a means to target users with ads on their smart home devices that are connected to the Internet.
"A few years from now, we and other companies could be serving ads and other content on refrigerators, car dashboards, thermostats, glasses, and watches, to name just a few possibilities," reads a December letter sent by Google to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
-CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated the action that Facebook has taken with its mobile app. It is making users download the Messenger app in order to use the mobile chat function, not making all users switch to the Messenger app instead of the Facebook app, as was previously stated.