Google to sell user profiles, photos in ads

by Brian Fitzgerald, Wall Street Journal

Google updated its terms of service Friday to say that beginning Nov. 11 it has the right to sell adult users’  profile names, photos and comments in reviews and advertising.

Here’s how its “shared endorsements” would work: If you rate a product on Google Play or give a product a +1 (the Google equivalent to Facebook’s “like”), those actions can be shown to your friends and connections. So if you gave a +1 to your favorite fashion retailer, your mom might see an advertisement from that retailer that says you like it. Google is drawing that information from your Google+ account (and you might have one, even if you don’t use it).

The idea is that mom will want to know the stuff that you think is valuable. It’s very much the road Facebook is on – a move that drew a lot of fire. Keep in mind, though, that Facebook’s activity lives in context within Facebook’s site. Google has a much wider footprint. This promoted activity can show up in any Google service — YouTube, Maps, Play and, most importantly, Search.

In an online post, Google says the shared endorsements will only be seen by the people you have agreed to share content with, and that you still have control over what you share.

Here’s what the company said:

Feedback from people you know can save you time and improve results for you and your friends across all Google services, including Search, Maps, Play and in advertising. For example, your friends might see that you rated an album 4 stars on the band’s Google Play page. And the +1 you gave your favorite local bakery could be included in an ad that the bakery runs through Google. We call these recommendations shared endorsements and you can learn more about them here.

You can go to that link and opt out of being a part of shared endorsements, at which point Google guilts you by saying “your friends will be less likely to benefit from your recommendations.” If you are under 18, you can see shared endorsements but your profile won’t be used in them, Google says. Google says that these settings only apply to advertisements and not how your profile or photo might be used in other commercial ways. Here is the actual language in the terms of service:

If you have a Google Account, we may display your Profile name, Profile photo, and actions you take on Google or on third-party applications connected to your Google Account (such as +1’s, reviews you write and comments you post) in our Services, including displaying in ads and other commercial contexts. We will respect the choices you make to limit sharing or visibility settings in your Google Account. For example, you can choose your settings so your name and photo do not appear in an ad.

Here’s a picture on Google’s site that gives you an idea of what shared endorsements look like:








It’s hard sometimes to think of a scenario where you might endorse and then become its unwitting spokesperson. But think about the love affair with McDonald’s McRib sandwhich, or how many people adore Grand Theft Auto, and you get the picture.

This isn’t entirely new for Google. As this New York Times article points out, Google previously had shown people’s +1 activity in ads across Google’s network.