Google’s new ad scheme

by
Google

Google Inc. is trying something new with their advertising – having it feature you. Users of Google+, the social media site, may now have their photos pop up next to advertisements in an attempt to make them even more personal.

Here’s the story from ABC News:

Google+ users may now see their pictures plastered next to advertisements for a range of products, without compensation.

The company announced on Friday that users’ names, profile photos and endorsements may appear on “reviews, advertising and other commercial contexts” by default, under the new terms of its service that kick in on Nov. 11.

The policy changes mean that every time a user over 18 reviews an album or bakery online for example, they may become brand ambassadors for their recommendations, which are then broadcast to others within their Google+ network.

Google explained that “shared endorsements” help people “save time” and improve results.

“We want to give you — and your friends and connections — the most useful information. Recommendations from people you know can really help,” the company said on its website.

But the move has raised a host of concerns about privacy and the use of unlicensed advertisements, The Wall Street Journal reported:

Many of Silicon Valley’s most popular sites say that such social-context ads are more useful—and maybe even less annoying—than traditional types of online advertising. But they have raised the hackles of privacy advocates, and advertisers have yet to fully buy into their effectiveness.

Even before Google’s latest privacy change, when users clicked the “+1″ button—Google’s equivalent of Facebook Inc.’s “like” button—their endorsement might have appeared in an ad.

Now it is expanding the type of content that may appear in ads—for example, ratings of songs in the Google Play store, or restaurant reviews posted to its Google+ social network.

Moreover, users who sign into third-party applications using their Google account may also see their activity used in Google ads. The company hasn’t specified which apps, what actions or where such ads might appear.

“We think it’s a problem,” says Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “It’s a commercial endorsement without consent and that is not permissible in most states in the U.S.”

In response, Google said in a statement: “The privacy and security of our users is one of our top priorities. We believe our Terms of Service updates are a positive step forward in clarifying important privacy and security details for our users, and are in full compliance with the law.”

The Washington Post pointed out that the Federal Trade Commission would look at the use of sponsored stories — once the government re-opens:

Last month, the Federal Trade Commission said it would review whether Facebook’s push into sponsored stories violated the company’s 2011 privacy settlement with the federal government. That agreement required Facebook to give adequate notice of changes in privacy policies and to make sure users aren’t misled about how their data is being used.

Due to the government shutdown, the FTC said it could not respond to a question on whether its investigators would also examine Google’s new advertising practice.

Google said its new advertising policy would apply only to the 390 million people who have signed up for Google Plus, the company’s social network. The company can also draw on endorsements made with Google’s +1 button, which is similar to Facebook’s “like” button and appears on sites across the Web.

A user who wants to limit the reach of his or her advertising endorsements could adjust settings so that a positive review for, say, a car is shared only with a small circle of friends on Google Plus, the company said.

Some privacy experts commended the way Google is rolling out the feature by giving users a month’s notice of the changes and options to decline.

CNN also makes an interesting point that only positive reviews and endorsements show up in the advertisements, since obviously companies won’t pay for negative press:

Other social media companies have toyed with featuring their users’ photos in ads. If you Like a company on Facebook or post a positive review on its page, that can be used in that company’s Facebook ads.

You may have noticed a sponsored post in your News Feed that shows which of your friends have liked a particular brand. As with Google+ reviews, the key to not appearing in these types of ads is not endorsing brands. (Unlike Google, there’s no opt-out option for sponsored stories on Facebook.)

The idea of promoting a brand and sharing positive opinions could appeal to many Google+ users who are already actively leaving reviews. Some people just really love brands, whether they’re sports drinks, smartphone makers, movies or video games. They want to broadcast that love to the world, sharing their positive opinions wide and far.

Negative opinions can be equally useful information for their friends and families, but those bad reviews are not usable by advertisers. And for now, there’s no -1 button on Google+ or Dislike button for Facebook.

At least Google is giving users some time to think about how they’d like their information shared and the ability to opt-out. It’s another way for companies to make money off the vast troves of personal information they collect and store via social media tools. Who needs a secret anyway?