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Google’s Plan to Shove You in Ads

Two years ago, Google launched its own version of Facebook, a social network dubbed Google+ that claimed it would fix the “broken” and “awkward” state of sharing online. Along with breathless descriptions of everything Google+ could do for us, there was a brief hint at what we could, in turn, do for Google+: “We want to make Google better by including you, your relationships and your interests,” the company wrote at the time.

Finally, we know what Google had in mind: It’ll be sticking us in its ads.

Google announced that it will begin featuring users’ photos, names and comments in the promotions it serves up online, both on Google properties and on the more than 2 million sites that tap into its advertising network.

Ratings, reviews, relationships, comments, posts and other information taken from our activity on Google’s websites, such as Google+ and YouTube, will be repurposed and served up in these new so-called “shared endorsements.” For example, if you review Candy Crush or “+1” a steakhouse on Google+ (the equivalent of a Facebook “like”), your friends might see your picture and name show up alongside ads for that app or restaurant.

It’s clear why these personalized ads are better for Google and its paying customers. But it’s also clear that the rise of the friendorsement — relationships repackaged as ads — risks making our interactions online more awkward, not less. Google is taking advantage of our relationships and reputations to sweeten sponsors’ pitches, transforming us into spokesmen in situations we don’t always have control over. By making us into its salesforce, Google is transforming the soulmate into the sellmate.

Google is hardly the first company to try gussying up ads with our faces in an attempt to make promotions more palatable. In 2011, Facebook introduced “Sponsored Stories,” a controversial ad type that let brands use a fan’s name and photo when pitching to that person’s friends. The ad format brought in several hundred million dollars between 2011 and mid-2012 — and a class-action suit that Facebook settled earlier this year. In August, Facebook tried again, updating its privacy policy in ways that would “allow Facebook to routinely use the images and names of Facebook users for commercial advertising without consent,” privacy advocates alleged. The Federal Trade Commission is currently reviewing the proposed changes.



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