Google to link users’ Gmail to search results

Google is creating an information bridge between its search engine and its Gmail service in its latest attempt to deliver more personal responses more quickly.

The experimental feature will allow Google’s search engine to mine the correspondence stored within a user’s Gmail account for any data tied to a search request. For example, a query containing the word “Amazon” would pull emails with shipping information sent by the online retailer.

Such Gmail results would typically be shown to the right of the main results, though in some instances, the top of the search page would highlight an answer extracted directly from an email. The request “my flight” would show specific airline information imported from Gmail. Something similar could eventually happen when searching for a restaurant reservation or tickets to a concert.

Although Google has a commanding lead in searching the internet, it remains worried about the threat posed by the likes of Facebook. As social networks have made it easier to share information online, the web is starting to revolve more around people than keywords and links.

Google has been trying to adapt by building more personal services and plugging them into its search engine.

Blending email information into search results could raise privacy worries. Google is trying to mitigate that by showing Gmail results in a collapsed format that users must open to see the details. For now, users must sign up to participate.

Google ran into trouble over privacy in 2010 when it tapped the personal contact information within Gmail accounts to build a social networking service called Buzz. Google set up Buzz in a way that caused many users to inadvertently expose personal data from Gmail. The uproar culminated in a Federal Trade Commission settlement requiring Google to improve its privacy controls and undergo audits for 20 years.

The company is treading carefully as it hooks Gmail to its search engine. The feature will initially be available to 1m Gmail users who sign up at g.co/searchtrial; a fraction of the more than 425m Gmail accounts that have been set up since it was launched eight years ago.

Google hopes to give all Gmail users the option of plugging their accounts into the search engine, according to Amit Singhal, a senior vice president with the company.

“The destiny of search is to become that perfect Star Trek computer,” he said.


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