Google to tap users’ reviews and photos for web ad “endorsements”

Lock, encryption, privacy, NSA

An update to Google’s terms of service today may make some users think twice about leaving a comment or a rating on a website owned by the search giant. The change, reported by the New York Times“allows the company to include adult users’ names, photos and comments in ads shown across the Web, based on ratings, reviews and posts they have made on Google Plus and other Google services like YouTube.”

To put it plainly: Google now has the ability to collect comments and ratings from users and sell them to companies as “endorsements” for use in internet advertising. The new ad policy, which goes live November 11, will feature users’ names, comments and photos alongside things that they’ve liked, followed, reviewed, or favorably commented on.

These sorts of user endorsements are not uncommon — but many have bristled at the idea that their names and personal information can be sold to a company for a price. Both Instagram and Facebook have endured lawsuits for their policies, both of which allow the platform to sell user content as advertisements (known colloquially on Facebook as “Sponsored Stories”). While Instagram’s fight fizzled almost immediately in court, users are appealing the $20 million settlement Facebook offered in court.

Both lawsuits are indicative of the drama surrounding user-involved advertisements: where Facebook, Instagram and Google see the opportunity to “personalize” ad space, users see a ploy to make money from their social media activities.  While there has been uproar — and Google is likely not going to be exempt from it — these kinds of advertisements are becoming the new normal for social networks.

Users have the opportunity to opt out of Google’s new ad policy on this Endorsements page,  but it’s unclear how easy — or permanent — that opportunity will remain.

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