Google's New Policy: More Advertising, Less Privacy


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Google keeps tabs on you. We all know that. Despite its unofficial motto, "Don't be evil," the company tracks what we search for, who we send mail to, and anything else it can find on us. And it's all done without malice. But with some recent policy changes, it appears the pervasive search giant could be leaning towards the dark side.

The company spies on you to enhance its bottom line. The more Google knows about you, the better it can target ads to your tastes. And if that was the only thing they did with your information, personal tastes, and odd character quirks, that wouldn't be so bad. There's little harm in seeing only ads for things you might actually want to buy.

But now, Google wants you to be part of those ads. And no, you won't get paid for it.

On October 11, Google updated its terms of service. Only instead of "updated," something like, “changed it in a way to better exploit you” might be more accurate. The company can now use your name and photo in certain types of ads.

To be fair, this isn't as bad as it sounds. Google will not plaster your face on ads for products you never heard of, or ones that you actively hate. They'll stick to products that you've endorsed on some Google service, and even then only display the ads to people you know. For instance, if you use Google+, the company may show your circle of friends that you liked a particular product.

Of course, it could get worse. After all, this is the company that owns YouTube and reads your mail. Who knows how they will "enhance" this policy in the future.

For the present, however, they're providing a way to opt out. Go to Shared Endorsements setting, and scroll to the bottom of the page. If the option labeled  "Based upon my activity, Google may show my name and profile photo in shared endorsements that appear in ads" is checked, uncheck it and click Save.

Banner ads and economic realities

Putting your face in advertising isn't Google's only recent turn for the worst. According to a report in The Guardian, the search giant is experimenting with putting banner ads in search result pages--a form of advertising they swore off of in 2005.

Judging from rare sightings of these tests, the banners are quite large, dominating the page.  Google already uses well under half of the page for actual, legitimate search results. Expect that real estate to shrink even more.

Like all corporations, Google is in business to make a profit--the larger the better. And its primary customers are not the millions of people for whom they provide free services, but the advertisers who actually send them money.

To a large extent, you have to expect them to behave that way. Like any other for-profit company that gives products or services away for free, they have to get money from someone, and that someone may not have your best interests at heart. You need to keep an eye open and make sure they don't overstep their bounds.

This story, "Google's New Policy: More Advertising, Less Privacy" was originally published by BrandPost.