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Google Would Like Your Thoughts on This Gluten-Free Brownie Mix

With Consumer Surveys, Google is proposing an alternative economic structure for the digital economy.

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Google has rolled out a new feature: Consumer Surveys, a scheme that takes a series of marketer-to-consumer surveys and puts them to work on the sites of media publications. The new feature is the official version of the "surveywall" that Nieman Lab's Justin Ellis reported on when he came across an experimental version of it back in October. It's "basically a substitute for a paywall," Consumer Surveys product manager Paul McDonald says.

Consumer Surveys finds Google doing what's proven lucrative for it in the past: acting as a middleman (or, you know, a middlebot) between users and the people who want to turn those users into consumers. Google pays publishers for hosting the surveys (the equivalent of a $15 CPM); marketers, in turn, pay Google for the demographic-targetable data the publisher-hosted surveys provide; and users, in turn -- provided they don't find the pop-up microsurveys too annoying to complete -- get an alternate way of accessing publisher content that they might otherwise be made to pay for. 

(All responses are anonymous, Google says, so they're not tied to a user's identity or used for future ad targeting.)

As for Google's fees for the data it provides:

Questions seen by a broad audience representing the general U.S. population are $0.10 per response (with a minimum total cost of $100). If companies want to drill down by demographic or select a custom audience with a screening question, the cost is $0.50 per response.

Though today's survey launch partners include brands like the bag-maker Timbuk2 (sample survey question: "Which diaper bag feature is most important to you?"), the jeans-maker Lucky Brand, and the baked-goods purveyor King Arthur ("What is most important to you when buying a gluten-free brownie mix?"), the Consumer Surveys tools can be used by anyone, not just marketers. Reporters and scientists could use the tools to obtain data from broad swaths of people; we at The Atlantic Tech could use it -- just for a totally random example -- to help develop our album of love-worthy places on the Internet.

And while your first reaction to the Google-ized surveys might well be something be like mine ("UGH: Does the Internet really need yet another pop-up survey?") ... the survey approach is actually pretty fascinating in the context of the magazine-reading and newspaper-perusing and other information-consumption activities that we do, every day, online. Consumer Surveys is embracing the fairly radical idea that, in the context of the Internet, information is an acceptable currency for ... information. Google's latest pay-the-publishers tool is trying to trade personal information provided by you, the consumer, for information provided to you, the consumer. 

With Consumer Surveys, Google is essentially proposing an alternative economic structure for the transactions that take place on the web. Instead of (or, well, in addition to) tracking your product preferences, semi-surreptitiously, as you move about the interwebs ... Google is now also proposing to track your preferences explicitly. And to treat those preferences as what they are: valuable data. And data that can act, being valuable, as their own kind of currency. 

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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