Is Google using Priority Inbox to gather intelligence for Google Me?

Question: Is Google Priority Inbox an independent product development effort—or is it part of Google’s efforts to compete with Facebook and Twitter in social media?

Last Month…

Google launched the Priority Inbox service for Gmail (you can read my review here). The purpose of this service is

[To] automatically identif[y] your important email and separat[e] it out from everything else, so you can focus on what really matters.

Google does this by asking you to indicate which emails are of high priority to you (indirectly indicating which people who send you email are most important to you). From here, Google use this information to prioritise each email that it delivers via Gmail.

Meanwhile…

Google is in development of Google Me, a new social networking service “coming this Fall” to challenge Facebook and Twitter. Google Me is a follow-up to Buzz, Google’s first big foray into social networking. Buzz algorithmically guessed who should be in your social network based on who emailed you more often. However, many of these guesses were incorrect, creating significant privacy problems that eventually lead to an USD $8.5-million legal settlement and low usage of the product.

So here is the next Million-dollar Question:

Is Google using Priority Inbox to capture information about you that they can combine with everything else they know about you to enable them launch Google Me (announced to you through Gmail) pre-populated with enough personal information to compete with what Facebook already has about you? Or are these two efforts completely independent?

Why do I ask this? Three reasons:

  1. Google’s mission: To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful
  2. Google Dashboard: Google’s transparency in showing you what they have collected about you (something I greatly applaud)
  3. The upcoming change (on 3 October 2010) to Google’s Privacy Policy

What do you think?