Google just announced changes to Google+ Terms of Service which makes it possible for Google+ users to unknowingly, and unwillingly appear in product ads – unless they opt-out.
A user’s photo and profile information may appear in the advertising of a company they have endorsed (by clicking the +1 button). Google says their motive in doing so is that consumers tend to trust product endorsements from people they follow on social media over traditional digital advertising. This trust factor could lead to faster and more efficient Google search and a better experience with Google features such as Maps, Play and AdWords.
You may recall that Facebook settled a class action lawsuit that awarded more than 20 million dollars to users whose Facebook activity such as ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ of brand content was used as product promotions in Facebook advertisements, and they were not informed or compensated. That case raised serious questions about advertising and privacy practices on social media that Google+ has apparently chosen to ignore.
As long as these rules are in place, the only control users have is to update their settings. To opt-out of Google+ “recommendations” and “endorsements”, restrict the use of your profile information in Google’s Shared Endorsements setting.
This setting allows you to limit the use of your name and photo in shared endorsements in ads. However, it applies only to actions that Google displays within ads; it does not impact how your name and photo might look in a shared endorsement that is not in an ad – for example, when you share a music recommendation that is displayed in the Play Store. For these uses, the only way to avoid ‘endorsing’ a product is to delete your original activity/ engagement with the content or change its visibility to ‘private’.
I really like Google but worry when any company has as much power as Google appears to be acquiring, and I might add with precious little oversight. Google has favored “opt-in” rather than “opt-out” up until now and that’s been comforting. It seems that now, in certain circumstances, my Google personal image/profile is fair game for their ads unless I initiate an action — opting out.
Going forward, is this going to be the new norm for Google?
I sincerely hope not.