Google Conscripts Users into Advertising Army

by Matt Klassen on October 15, 2013

Google has changed its Terms of Service (again), and if you’re one of the many whom simply ignore that little explanatory pop-up at the top of the screen, it may be worth your while to pay attention to this one, as the search engine giant has quietly conscripted the ignorant into its revamped advertising army.

Briefly, the changes now mean that Google will include users’ profile names and photos together with content like reviews that they share, ads they +1 (Google’s equivalent of the Facebook ‘Like’), comments they post, or what and whom they follow, changes that come into effect on November 13th. Thankfully, the only people that will see such personal information are those who the user has already chosen to share content with, and there is an opt-out option by turning off the ‘Shared Endorsements’ setting.

Simply put, like Facebook’s controversial ‘Sponsored Stories’ feature—that garnered a class action lawsuit that cost Facebook $20 million to settle—Google is trying to turn its users into unpaid advertising drones, now its just a question of whether you care enough to not be one.

“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,” with Simpson likening the situation to Facebook’s similar attempt last year, one that sparked Fraley v. Facebook and cost the social network a relatively paltry $20 million.

The content of Fraley’s class action suit, however, was the inability for users to opt-out of the process, and the difference here is that Google has clearly learned from its competitor’s mistakes, allowing users to opt-out of the feature and carefully excluding minors from the entire process.

But while privacy watchdogs and other concerned citizens may be fuming over these changes, lets remember that Google’s ToS has long explicitly stated that when users upload content to any of Google’s services they give the search engine giant “a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works, communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.” So in that light, it seems Google is being quite sensitive to our needs…for a heartless corporation seeking to exploit its users for financial gain that is.

That said, couple this with Facebook’s recent alterations to its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities unveiled last month, changes that allow the social network to “use members’ names, profile pictures, content and information in connection with ads or content it serves or enhances, without compensation,” and it adds up to a disturbing trend in the online world, as companies continue to find ways to conscript us in their respective advertising armies.

“The FTC needs to continue probing the ways online companies invade our privacy,” 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.” Of course any action in this matter does require a functional government, something sorely lacking these days.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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