Google sets its sights on your financial data

Nick Wood
By Nick Wood

Nov 14, 2019

via Flickr © Keith Cooper (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © Keith Cooper (CC BY 2.0)

  • Search giant reportedly in talks with FIs to offer bank accounts
  • There isn't much money in basic banking, but there is a lot of data
  • After its recent push into health, Google is getting even creepier

Google has opened up a new front in its effort to usher in the dystopian future of our nightmares: the search giant wants to offer bank accounts.

According to a Wall Street Journal report this week, Google has little interest in doing the heavy lifting itself, and is instead holding talks with Citigroup and a Stanford University credit union to run the accounts.

"Our approach is going to be to partner deeply with banks and the financial system," said Google executive Caesar Sengupta, in the report.

As with most of Google's unnerving extracurricular activities, this one has a snappy title: Cache. And therein lies the reason behind Google's banking ambitions. Clearly it is not enough that it can track spending habits via Google Pay, it needs more, more, more data. If people start paying their salary into a Google account, and pay their mortgage, insurance and utility bills out of it again...well, there you have the reason why the project is called Cache. They might as well have called it "Let's Tap This Bottomless Well Of Personal Information".

Google's bread and butter is advertising, so the primary motivation behind Cache should be obvious to anyone with a pulse.

However, Google is also pushing hard with AI and machine learning. When it comes to banking, this technology is being adopted in the pursuit of delivering more personalised customer service and tailored recommendations.

If Google gets to peep inside peoples' bank accounts, it will help inform not just recommendations for financial products and services, but potentially for other stuff as well. If it knows what you do for a living, and knows how much you're being paid for it, perhaps it might offer some unsolicited career advice.

Or, for instance, it isn't much of a leap to imagine Google one day recommending a restaurant based not just on a person's location, but their spending habits, and how much money they have left in their bank account.

Healthy obsession

So far, that doesn't sound too bad.

But then consider Google's push into healthcare alongside this. Both on the consumer side, with its recent $2.1 billion acquisition of fitness tracker maker Fitbit, and on the professional side, with Project Nightingale, where its AI and machine learning technology is being fed highly personal medical information on millions of patients.

At the moment, the data gathered is more than likely held in separate silos. But Google hates silos; it much prefers data to be all joined up.

Maybe one day then, when you ask Google for that restaurant recommendation, what you'll get back – based on your available funds and the size of your waistband – is a recommendation to go jogging instead, tubby.

Or, maybe at your last check-up, your helpful doctor advised some minor lifestyle changes and made a note of it on your medical file. Then, next time you open YouTube, maybe your recommended videos are helpful guides showing you how to make those changes.

Many will find the prospect of this potential future exciting, but others will undoubtedly find it more than a little creepy. To those in the former camp, I say don't come crying to me when all you can find on Google Maps are budget-friendly salad bars.

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