Google to use people's recommendations, pictures in advertisements

Starting Nov. 11, your face and words could pop up in advertisements on Google.

The Google+ logo on the Google homepage. Googlers can now email anyone on Google+, which has sent privacy advocates on a tizzy.

Perhaps one day you have a particularly tasty slice of pizza and decide to rate the restaurant on Google Plus Local.

“Mmm, delicious slice!” you write, adding a four out of five star rating.

The next day, don’t be surprised when you get to Google and see an ad for that pizza joint with a glowing recommendation – from you.

Google announced a change to its Terms of Service Friday, letting Google users know that their follows, comments, shares, ratings, and +1s could end up on advertising.

“We want to give you – and your friends and connections – the most useful information,” Google says. “Recommendations from people you know can really help.”

When you hit +1 on an album in Google Play or rate a coffee shop on Google, your Google-using friends may see your recommendation or +1 on an advertisement for those products or businesses across Google services, ranging from Google Maps to YouTube. These Terms of Service officially begin Nov. 11.

Though Google has a rosier view on endorsements, anyone who has taken a business course may see this as thinly veiled word-of-mouth marketing, an advertising technique that relies on customers to serve as self-motivated ambassadors of a product. The idea is that people are more likely to buy a product or frequent a business if someone they trust recommends it to them. It’s an advertising tactic that has been around nearly as long as business itself, but has especially ballooned in the Internet age with services such as Yelp and FourSquare.

The difference is that this feature is now built into the Google Plus social network, and people must opt-out if they do not want their words used by advertisers.  Google makes this relatively easy – under “Account Settings” in Google Plus, just hit “Off” where it says Shared Endorsements. You can also choose to limit who can see your endorsement in an ad, so instead of showing up publicly, it may show up just to people in one of your Circles.

It also only happens when you actually take an action, like +1ing a link or rating a restaurant, and anyone younger than 18 is not included in the program.

This news rolls into a growing debate on privacy extending from Facebook’s new, sophisticated Graph Search to revelations about the NSA’s surveillance reach. With social networks reaching nearly one in four people worldwide, this conversation won't likely end anytime soon.

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