Google announced a new update to its terms of service the other day that is unsurprisingly ruffling some feathers. The change enables Google to use users' profile names and photos across Google products as it sees fit. You know, like in ads. Other changes include a reminder about mobile device safety and details on password confidentiality.
Do you mind if Google uses your name and profile picture in ads across its products? Let us know in the comments.
"We want to give you – and your friends and connections – the most useful information," Google says of the changes. "Recommendations from people you know can really help. So your friends, family and others may see your Profile name and photo, and content like the reviews you share or the ads you +1’d. This only happens when you take an action (things like +1’ing, commenting or following) – and the only people who see it are the people you’ve chosen to share that content with. On Google, you’re in control of what you share. This update to our Terms of Service doesn’t change in any way who you’ve shared things with in the past or your ability to control who you want to share things with in the future."
"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," Google says. "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."
Google calls the recommendations "shared endorsements," and has a place where you can go to adjust your settings, and control whether or not your image and name appear in ads. It does appear to be enabled by default, so you may want to check that out. Google does say that if you have told Google in the past that you don't want your +1s to appear in ads, then they'll continue to respect that.
Note, however, that the setting only applies to use in ads. It has no effect on where your name and image might appear on other Google products. Keep last year's changes in mind. Google can use data about you from one of its products to the next. If you're a YouTube user, you're a Google user. If you're a Google search user, you're also a YouTube user (because that's part of Google). If you're a Gmail user, you're a Google user. You get the idea.
Google also says that for user under 18, they won't appear in shared endorsements in ads and "certain other contexts."
Google+ still doesn't have ads on it the way Facebook does, but this highlights how Google is able to use the profile, which is the backbone of Google+ as a way to improve its ads elsewhere.
The new terms will go into effect on November 11th. You can read the actual ToS here.
Google has notified users of the changes via a Google+ notification:
The changes have already drawn suspicion from at least one senator, who has called upon the FTC to look into Google's practices.
Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) wrote to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, asking her to look into whether or not Google’s new terms violate its previous agreement related to its settlement over the Google Buzz debacle. Here's the letter:
Dear Chairwoman Ramirez:
Under the new advertisement policy, called “shared endorsements”, users’ names and pictures, along with their ratings or comments, could appear in advertisements on any of the millions of Web sites that comprise Google’s display advertising network. For example, if a user follows a restaurant on Google Plus, that user’s name, photo, and positive endorsement may be displayed in advertisements for that restaurant that friends and others see.
I understand that, according to Google’s Terms of Service Update: “When it comes to shared endorsements in ads, you can control the use of your Profile name and photo via the Shared Endorsements setting. If you turn the setting to “off,” your Profile name and photo will not show up on that ad for your favorite bakery or any other ads.” Nevertheless, Google’s Update continues: “This setting only applies to use in ads, and doesn’t change whether your Profile name or photo may be used in other places such as Google Play.”
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. If you have any questions, please have a member of your staff contact Joseph Wender at 202-224-2742.
Edward J. Markey
Are you okay with Google's changes? After all, they do let you opt out of showing up in ads. Do the changes enable Google to improve its products? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Note: This article has been expanded from its original form.