Google sets plan to sell users’ endorsements

New York TimesOctober 11, 2013 

— Google, following in Facebook’s footsteps, wants to sell users’ endorsements to marketers to help them hawk their wares.

On Friday, Google announced an update to its terms of service that 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.

When the new ad policy goes live Nov. 11, Google will be able to show what the company calls shared endorsements on Google sites and across the Web, on the more than 2 million sites in Google’s display advertising network, which are viewed by an estimated 1 billion people.

If a user follows a bakery on Google Plus or gives an album four stars on the Google Play music service, for instance, that person’s name, photo and endorsement could show up in ads for that bakery or album.

Google said it would give users the chance to opt out of being included in the new endorsements, and people under the age of 18 will automatically be excluded.

Such product endorsements, especially coming from friends and acquaintances, are a powerful lure to brands, replicating word-of-mouth marketing on a broad scale.

But as Facebook has learned, many users have strong and skeptical feelings about their endorsements being used in ads without their explicit permission.

“The trick to any advertising like this is to avoid coming across as creepy to your user base and have them say, ‘I didn’t want anyone else to know that’” said Zachary Reiss-Davis, a Forrester analyst, speaking generally about social ads.

In a notice to users posted on its site Friday, Google said, “Feedback from people you know can save you time and improve results for you and your friends across all Google services.”

Facebook, the world’s largest social network with 1.2 billion users worldwide, has been aggressively marketing such social endorsements. For example, if you post that you love McDonald’s new Mighty Wings on the chain’s Facebook page, McDonald’s could pay to broadcast your kind words to all your friends, effectively using you as a product endorser.

The company declined to specify exactly how it planned to use endorsements in advertising, what the ads would look like or how brands choose whether to include shared endorsements.

Facebook does not allow its users to opt out of such ads, which it calls sponsored stories, although users can limit how their actions on the social network are used in some other types of advertising.

Google Plus users, on the other hand, will be able to opt out of inclusion in ads on the social network’s settings page.

If a Google Plus user has shared comments with a limited set of people, only people in that circle will see the personalized ads. Ratings and reviews on services like Google Plus Local are automatically public and can be used in ads, unless a user opts out of shared endorsements.

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