Smile…you’re on Google!

Anyone with an active Google+ account might want to take a closer look at their profile picture going forward as it could end up appearing in more places than usual.

From 11 November, Google plans to incorporate people’s profile pictures, and their comments about products and places, into more of its adverts.

Under the new terms of its shared endorsements policy, the name and photo a user has on their Google+ account could be included in search ads. For example, if someone searches for ‘spa resorts’ and a Google+ user has reviewed or commented on a spa resort that has a PPC ad appearing for those keywords, their review (along with their name and Google+ profile image) could show up as part of the ad.

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In response to this apparent invasion of privacy, some Google+ users have launched a protest against shared endorsements by replacing their profile photos with pictures of Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.

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Google has responded by saying users can easily opt out of the new policy but many will be unaware that the change is even taking place. And unless users choose to opt out, Google will reserve the right to use their name and photo in ads for products, services, and businesses whose pages and content they’ve interacted with in some way.

While some people are outraged over the new policy the simple fact is that using people’s data, especially for advertising, is how social networks and internet giants make their money. So if we +1, like, tweet, upload, review a product, or leave comments on a social network site, we should accept that the information could potentially be used in all manner of public ways.

Facebook faced strong criticism over a similar system called sponsored stories which it rolled out in 2011. Legal action following the criticism eventually led to Facebook paying out $20m in compensation to people whose images it used without permission.

It’s possible that something as serious will happen to Google. Indeed, American senator Edward Markey has already sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking the agency to investigate whether the shared endorsements policy change violates the terms of Google’s 2011 privacy settlement with the FTC over its long-dead Buzz feature, in which Google promised not to change its privacy settings without explicit permission from users. Watch this space. 

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