Google announced a few days ago that they’re going to be launching another major venture, which is Project Fi. It’s couched as an innovative way of providing cellular service for an affordable price, but it seems to me to be a test run at a new and better way of collecting mobile data.
What is Project Fi?
Although I’m overall meh on the idea behind it, Google’s Project Fi does offer some interesting-ish ideas. The concept is that Google will offer better coverage by switching between available wireless networks (which are the priority connection) and use either Sprint or T-Mobile cell towers if no wireless network is available.
Additionally, you’re only going to pay for the data you use, and it’s going to give you the option of reducing your cellular bill. You’ll have to estimate your first month of usage, but if you use less data than you purchased, Google will refund you the amount. Of course, if you go over, you’ll still have to pay more for data. In theory, you could have a bill as low as $30 per month, not including taxes. Google charges $20 for talk and text, and each gigabyte of data transfer is $10.
The best thing about Project Fi is the part that really says to me this isn’t actually about getting in on being a cellular provider, which I’ll explain in a bit. With the new service, your number is in the cloud. Per Google:
Talk, text, and check voicemail with the screen nearest you. Your phone number now works with more than just your phone. Connect any device that supports Google Hangouts (Android, iOS, Windows, Mac, or Chromebook) to your number. Then, talk and text with anyone—it doesn’t matter what device they’re using.
Why It’s Just Pretty Decent
On the surface, this all sounds pretty neat, but if you actually think about it, it’s not particularly groundbreaking. Heck, it’s not even moving an ant hill around. There are a large number of affordable, pay based on usage, no monthly contract cellular services available. Heck, 50% of WalMart’s electronics department is devoted to them. The biggest difference is that Google will refund you if you go under your data plan.
Additionally, although it makes it sound like you’ll be getting great signal wherever you go due to the multitude of towers and availability of WiFi, it doesn’t really solve the main causes of signal problems. I live in the middle of nowhere, so towers and WiFi connections are few and far between. Furthermore, signal drops are very common in populous areas where there are hills or mountains or valleys because line of sight gets dicey. Those problems will continue to exist, even with Project Fi.
Project Fi also has a huge albatross around its neck, and no cell phone needs a giant angry bird to accompany it, which is that it’s only available through the Nexus 6. This is due to the way that the service can switch between Wi-Fi and Sprint and T-Mobile’s towers to ensure connectivity, but it’s still a huge issue. I was interested in signing up for Project Fi until I saw that the Nexus was required, at which point my response was, “LOL, nope.”
ALL THE DATA!
Okay, so Google is spending a decent amount of resources on something that, when you get right down to it, is just pretty okay. Why? Well, if you’re a suspicious b-word like myself, you assume that Google has an ulterior motive and that’s to collect data. (And make money, but one leads to the other.)
Facebook also has the advantage in that it’s easier for them to track users across devices because they can follow them via Facebook logins through a variety of apps whereas Google is still basically relying on cookies, at least for now. However, if lots of people started using a Google cellular service, the data would be Google’s for the asking. In fact, they wouldn’t even have to rely on logins to apps the way that Facebook does.
I realize this may sound a bit tinfoil hatty, especially since you’d figure that the government would probably eventually get around to frowning on Google or anyone collecting that much raw data. However, this is where the part I mentioned earlier about the cloud comes in. Let’s say that Google isn’t allowed to use the raw data they’re getting. They could still connect Google accounts to using people’s cell numbers for talking and texting in the cloud. At that point, they’re back in the data collection game, even if they don’t have total unlimited access.
This is also backed up by the fact that Google tries and buys stuff all the time. Google currently owns eight robotics companies and have created a set of silverware for people with Parkinson’s. Heck, if you go through the list of what Google has invested in, it’s hard to find an industry they haven’t thrown money at.
Therefore, it’s not terribly out there to believe that Google might launch a cell service with a goal of data collection just to see if it would work and if they can get away with it.