October 13th, 2009 | Published in Google Public Policy
This post is the latest in an ongoing series about how we harness the data we collect to improve our products and services for our users. In previous posts, we've told you about how data is used for webspam detection, improving search quality in foreign languages, and the advancement of search. We've also discussed using data to make our products safe and to prevent fraud. - Ed.
For the past few years, Google Toolbar has included an opt-in feature that allows you to find out the PageRank value of any webpage by sending its URL to Google. In the latest release of Google Toolbar, we put the PageRank feature into a new category of features within Google Toolbar called enhanced features. We wanted to take this opportunity to provide you with some more details about how Google uses this information sent back to us when you enable these enhanced features.
To put it simply, we aggregate the URLs visited by our users who opt-in to enhanced features and analyze the resulting data to help us improve our products. In that sense, it is similar to our other opt-in mechanisms, like crash reporting in Google Chrome or help center surveys that allow users to provide valuable feedback to us.
One great example of how this data helps improve our products can be seen in our malware detection efforts. By getting a better sense of the most visited sites on the web, we're able to focus Google's automated malware scanners on the most popular URLs that users are currently visiting. This data is then used to power Google's SafeBrowsing feature which provides alerts to users searching on Google or who are browsing the web using Firefox, Safari or Google Chrome, that the site they want to visit may harm their computer. In the never-ending battle against malware, your opt-in data from Google Toolbar makes a big difference.
Another example of the usefulness of this data is around measuring page load times. Speed has always been key to our success (it's one of the 10 things we've found to be true). One way we measure this is by using the Google Toolbar as a page load timer. For example, when your browser sends out a request to fetch Google Maps, we start the timer. When the page is finished loading, we stop the timer and send the elapsed time back to Google along with the Google Maps URL request. By aggregating these response times across many users, we can accurately measure the load time of most websites as well as make our sites faster.
We are constantly working to improve your Google experience by making our products faster, safer and easier to use, and the insights and information gleaned from opt-in data from Toolbar's enhanced features are a key part of this effort. We want to thank those of you who have opted in to send us this data. Every little bit helps make our services better for everyone.