Lawyers from EFF warned this week of the implications of Google Sidle, a new beta product the company describes as, "Bringing our mission of organizing the world's information to your cafeteria," but which one EFF lawyer described as, "Creepy, even for Google."
Companies and schools subscribing to Sidle will have the convenience of not having to bus their own trays in exchange for allowing Google-nominated "Foodlers" to review leftovers for what the company describes as "analysis intended to improve food offerings and better target future nourishment." Customers can later visit personalized webpages describing what they didn't eat and how tasty it turned out to be.
"Google's business model has always relied on collating all the great free stuff on the Internet -- stuff that you might otherwise have missed," said the official blog entry announcing the service. "Our maintenance staff noticed a lot of free food in our award-winning restaurants was going to waste. After that insight, it only took Google engineers a few weeks to take the benefits of our foraging to millions. It also gives our hungry Googlers (or 'hungrooglers,' as we fondly refer to them) the opportunity to sample cafeteria food from around the country."
While initially cautious beta-testers have been reportedly swayed by the bright primary colors of the mu-mus early "Foodlers" have worn, privacy experts warn that new Sidle customers may be giving away more than they realize.
"Consumers should ask themselves some hard questions about this free service," said Kurt Opsahl, Senior Staff Attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, "such as 'Why don't these people just buy their own food,' 'Where do they take this stuff,' 'Why do they wear those gloves when they're taking it,' and, most importantly, 'Why do they keep staring at me while I'm trying to eat?'"
Even some employees within Google are said to have concerns about how much pre-launch testing the new, experimental service has undergone. "Usually we extensively self-trial these new social networking features within the organization," said one anonymous source, "but as soon as the Sidle people started talking about 'dogfooding,' everyone just stopped sitting near them at lunch."
Sidle is reportedly a "20% project," a unique Google custom where the 20% of the engineers with the poorest socialization skills are put to work on projects that management does not closely supervise and can retrospectively deny all knowledge of. Other 20% projects have included the "GTalk Slightly Too Loudly" instant messaging client that relayed private conversations to the Google search index (as well as everyone else in the room), and the extremely short-lived "Google Boggle Ogle Goggles (Street View Edition)."