Google has altered its Terms of Service to allow it to plaster users' names, photos and lots of other info all over relevant ads, a move that has privacy advocates up in arms. True, there are opt-out provisions, but essentially Google wants "to turn their users into unpaid pitchmen for advertisers," said Consumer Watchdog's John Simpson. The new rules apply only to users over the age of 18.
Google has announced changes to its Terms of Service that will take effect Nov. 13.
In short, users' profile names and photos will be served up together with content such as reviews they share, ads they +1 (the Google+ counterpart to a Facebook Like), comments they post, or who and what they follow.
Only people users choose to share content with will see their profile names and photos.
Users can exclude the use of their profile names and photos with ads by turning off the "Shared Endorsements" setting.
Google will honor previous indications that users do not want their +1s to appear in ads.
Users under 18 will not be affected by the ToS change.
Users can also use Google's Ads Settings tool to manage the ads they see.
Just Like Sponsored Stories?
The changes seem to bring Google's efforts close to Facebook's Sponsored Stories, a feature that led to a class-action lawsuit, Fraley v. Facebook, which cost the company US$20 million to settle.
"Basically, both Google and Facebook want to turn their users into unpaid pitchmen for advertisers," fumed John Simpson, privacy project director at Consumer Watchdog. "At this point, we are assessing the situation."
The difference is that Google is offering consumers an opt-out and is excluding minors, while Facebook Sponsored Stories includes 13-to-17-year-olds, pointed out Justin Brookman, director of the consumer privacy project at the Center for Democracy and Technology.
The Fraley suit was filed over Facebook's not offering users the chance to opt out.
Google "is being more risk-averse or kid-friendly by just not using under-18s," Brookman told the E-Commerce Times. Still, as long as it is repurposing users' content as an ad accompanied by a good opt-out, "they're really just riding Facebook's coattails."
The Importance of Being Sensitive
It could be argued that Google is being exceptionally sensitive to users' concerns about privacy. After all, its ToS explicitly state that when users upload or otherwise submit content to its services, they give Google and those it works with "a worldwide licence to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works, communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content."
Those rights are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting and improving Google's services and developing new ones.
The license will continue even if Google stops using its services.
All Your Data Are Belong to Us
Google's ToS changes follow Facebook's announcement on Thursday that it's getting rid of a setting that controls whether people can find someone's Timeline through searching by name.
Facebook has positioned the move as the final bit of an effort it began last year.
In September, Facebook unveiled a Statement of Rights and Responsibilities derived from the Facebook Principles.
The SRR lets Facebook use members' names, profile pictures, content and information in connection with ads or content it serves or enhances, without compensation. Users under 18 must represent that one parent or guardian has agreed to the SRR.
Taken together, the two companies' moves appear troubling.
"The FTC needs to continue probing the ways online companies invade our privacy," Consumer Watchdog's Simpson told the E-Commerce Times, "and President Obama needs to do something he called for a year and a half ago: Propose privacy legislation."
We can forget about the FTC until Congress comes to an agreement on the debt limit and reopens the government: A query to FTC spokesperson Peter Kaplan elicited the response that he was "out of the office due to the government shutdown."