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Google Now powers up by pulling in info from other apps

Google Now can now use data from apps such as Pandora, The Economist, and eBay to answer users' questions before they even ask them. Google Now doesn't share user data with third-party apps, but it can use your location to predict what information you'll want to see.

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Google Now can pull in data from third-party apps to make the service more useful. Here, National Retail Federation attendees in New York listen to a presentation on Google Wallet.

Mark Lennihan/AP/File

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For a long time, Google Now has done a small number of things very well.

It can monitor your calendar and check current traffic information to tell you how long it’ll take to get to your next appointment. It can pull information from your Gmail account to tell you when your Amazon package will arrive, or when you need to check in for your flight. But it hasn’t been able to go very far beyond those functions, until now.

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Google announced on Friday that Google Now supports data from third-party apps, which means that those apps can add their input to your stack of Google Now notification cards.

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The idea behind Google Now is that questions can be answered before you even ask them – the service gets to know your interests and even your habits over time, so it can predict what information you’ll want to see at any given time. Now that third-party apps can feed data to Google Now, it should be even better at showing you things you’ll actually find useful and interesting.

Pandora, for example, can make music recommendations. EBay can update you on the status of an auction in which you’re bidding. The Guardian and The Economist can suggest news stories you might be interested in. Google Now should be a much more useful service going forward, because it’ll be informed by the apps you use every day.

Google Now works with 40 apps right now, and Google will undoubtedly invite more companies to add Google Now support in the coming days and weeks. Google Now functionality is contextual, which means apps will offer you information automatically only when it’s relevant – so, for example, you might see traffic information from Waze when you’re in the car, or ride-sharing information from Lyft if you’re at the airport.

Although these notifications can be triggered by location, your location won’t actually be shared with third-party apps through Google Now. In fact, Google Now user data isn’t shared with these apps at all – the data only flows from third-party apps to Google Now, not the other way around. Users who are concerned about privacy, or who simply aren’t interested in the service, can turn it off by visiting Google Now’s “Web and App Activity” settings page and disallowing the service from using data from third-party apps.

Google Now’s third-party support only extends to Android for now, although Google may ultimately decide to let iPhone and iPad users in on the action, too.