A new patent application from Google suggests that Google may be monitoring user mouse movements in an attempt to determine what users will be looking for next. The abstract of the patent explains:
A client assistant, sometimes called a browser helper, runs on a client computer. The client assistant monitors a user's browsing activities and infers one or more next documents that are most likely to be requested by the user. The client assistant attempts to locate a fresh copy of the inferred next document within a client cache. If a fresh copy of the inferred document is not found in the client cache, the client assistant submits a document download request to a document server.
Bill Slawski has a thorough analysis of the patent, in which he explains its significance:
What is interesting about this patent application is that it looks at mouse behavior to try to guess whether or not documents should be preloaded into a client-side cache. It also includes a persistent connection to a datastream that allows for two way communication between a client computer and a server, enabling streams of information to flow back and forth.
Chances are that the Google toolbar may be doing something like this already to feed pagerank indications to the toolbar. Collection of this type of information may increase the amount of data that Google collects on user behavior, which possibly could be used to influence search results.
As Slawski goes on to note, the intent of the patent has not been made explicitly clear, and hence there is still some speculation as to what it could be used for.