Google has changed its terms of services so that it can now use users’ names, photos and comments in advertisements for companies and brands.
The new policy has been called “Shared Endorsements” and will lift users’ ratings and reviews from Google Plus, YouTube and other Google services.
In other words, if you give a new gadget a +1 (the Google equivalent of the Facebook like) then this might be used to sell that that same product to other people.
There are restrictions of course: under-18 users won’t be targeted for one, and your endorsements will only be shared with people that you originally chose to share content with.
This last point is somewhat tricky, as many users might not even be aware of their privacy settings or that the terms and services has changed.
At least some individuals will be publicly endorsing settings without their full knowledge, and with Google’s ad network encompassing more than two million sites and approximately one billion people, there’s a chance that a casual +1 might have more impact than users imagined.
However, the entire system can be turned off via the Shared Endorsements settings page.
The changes were first spotted by the New York Times, who also noted that Google’s decision to make advertisements more ‘social’ in this way is not at all unprecedented: product endorsements from friends and family are the internet equivalent of word-of-mouth recommendations, and can be far more effective than generic ads.
Facebook was the first major company to try its hand at this, converting Likes into ads under the banner of “Sponsored Stories”. However, many users were angry that their likeness was being used without their permission and a class action lawsuit was filed against the social network.
The Federal Trade Commission ruled in favour of the users and Facebook was ordered to pay $15 to the 615,000 individuals who had signed up to the case. This pay-out is currently being disputed, but the onward march of social ads will be much more difficult to stop.