Is 'Gravity' a Privacy Breach Waiting to Happen?

One of the more ambitious startups to emerge from this week's Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco is Gravity, a site that promises to "know what you like and what you want better than any search engine." Should users sign in, or put their privacy guard up?

One of the more ambitious startups to emerge from this week’s Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco is Gravity, a site that promises to “know what you like and what you want better than any search engine.” Should users sign in, or put their privacy guard up?

Gravity is the brainchild of three former MySpace executives, led by CEO Amit Kapur, who say the goal for their site is to become the “Pandora of the Web,” referring to the personalized, online music service that suggests new music based on your old and current favorites.

That information, what you like and what you want across the Web, is, of course, what every advertiser in the multi-billion dollar online ad space wants. And if Gravity knows what you like, won’t advertisers soon too?

Kapur argues that services such as its upcoming personalized newsfeed are only used on consumers who ask for a social-networking profile of themselves.

To deliver such personalized service, Kapur explained in a TechCrunch guest blog post, Gravity has built a database of 4,000 concepts that are connected to 7.5 million “interests” and 100 million phrases.

When a user uses one of the 100 million phrases in a Facebook post, tweet, or blog entry, for example, or includes a link to a Web page, Gravity notes the phrases you’re using and the concepts you’re talking about and files them under your name.

Then for each user, Gravity can build out an “interest graph” of everything you’re talking about in social networks, location-based sites like Foursquare and Gowalla included.

Gravity is already out with its first product, Twinterest, which uses your tweets on Twitter to compare your interests to your friends. Up next for the startup is the Orbit, a personalized newsfeed/Web newspaper.

Still to come? A “website personalization space.” Imagine visiting your favorite site and hitting a “personalization” button, which will bring highlighted content to the front, based on what you’re likely to be interested in.

Kapur describes the company’s efforts as going where search engines and social networks have gone before in helping users manage the overflow of content on the Web.

“Today, we live in a world where we’re constantly overwhelmed by information,” he wrote. “There are over 90M tweets per day, 34 hours of YouTube video uploaded every minute, and every Facebook user has an average of 130 friends who are becoming more and more active all the time.”

And boiling that information down into a database that connects users with interests, influencers with goods and services is good for business, even Kapur admits.

With Gravity technology, he explains, advertisers can target the “right audience” of influencers and measure the resultant uplift in awareness and favorability.