Google’s new policy poses privacy risks

Posted by on Oct 15, 2013

Image from http://www.jeffbullas.com/

Image from http://www.jeffbullas.com/

Google has made an announcement recently that it will be modifying its Terms of Service. As per the new policy, Google will include the names and profile pictures of users for product endorsements in its advertisements. The change will be effective from Nov 11.

The endorsements will come from the people who have signed up for Google+ accounts. As of now Google+ has 390 million active users per month. According to the new policy, if any user above the age of 18 likes something by giving it +1s, comments, and follows on Google properties, then his name and photo can show up in the Google ads. This policy is not applicable to users under the age of 18. For example, “if you search for “Italian restaurants,” you might see an ad for a nearby restaurant along with your friend’s favorable review. Or, in Google Play, you might see that another friend has +1’d a new song or album”. In explanation of the changes the company said, “We want to give you — and your friends and connections — the most useful information. Recommendations from people you know can really help.” This information will only be shown to the people whom you have chosen to share the content with (friends, family or others). However it is possible that people who do not use Google+ will be able to see the endorsements based on public content.

Google has introduced a new feature called “ Shared Endorsements” that enables you to take control over the use of your name and photos in endorsements. You can opt out of the ads by turning off your Shared Endorsement setting. This change will only be applicable to the use in the ads. Your photo and profile name can still be used in other Google services like Google Play.

Image from http://www.insidefacebook.com

Image from http://www.insidefacebook.com

Google seems to be following the footsteps of Facebook who had made a similar announcement in the past. According to Facebook’s “ Sponsored Stories” feature user’s faces and names will show up in the ads about the products they have clicked “like”. But unlike Google, Facebook users cannot opt out from this service. This feature was extremely disliked by Facebook users and suffered severe backlash from security experts. This policy also resulted in a class action lawsuit, which claimed that the company made changes to its privacy settings without notifying the users. Facebook paid $20 million to settle the lawsuit and has proposed to clarify how user names and photos will be used in the ads to implement the change. However the implementation of the new policy is still pending and has been sent to the Federal Trade Commission for further review. FTC is reviewing Facebook’s new policy to determine if the change has violated the company’s 2011 privacy settlement with the federal government. That agreement required Facebook to give adequate notice of changes in privacy policies and to make sure users aren’t misled about how their data is going to be used.

Google’s new move has also led to protests by Google+ users. According to a report on CNET, some Google+ users  have changed their Google+ profile pictures to that of Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt. That way, Schmidt’s face would show up alongside any endorsements pulled from those users’ accounts

Image from http://news.cnet.com/

Image from http://news.cnet.com/

The privacy concerns about Google’s new policy has also prompted Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) to send a letter to the Federal Trade Commission to evaluate Google’s new policy of including user names and photos in the advertisements. “Without users’ explicit permission, Google should not take consumer posts and turn them into product endorsements,” Markey said in a statement. He has asked the FTC to review Google’s new policy and determine if it violates an earlier agreement that the firm made with the FTC on privacy policy. Google has not commented on Markey’s letter.

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One Response to “Google’s new policy poses privacy risks”

  1. terryp says:

    Regretfully, I am not happy about google’s change in terms. I do not want my face and any info about me showing up in search engines. I feel as though google should pay it’s users, if they are going to use us as spokespersons in their engines. I’d like to hear other people’s opinion on this.

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