Google’s New Terms Mean You Could Soon Be Acting as a Product Endorser

If you’re a Google account holder, you may have noticed an announcement recently that Google has changed its terms and conditions, in part to allow it to use your +1s and comments as “shared endorsements” in ads published through Google ad services.


So it seems as if there’s now at least two ways Google uses you, me, us, to generate revenue in an advertising context. Firstly, we’re sold as “audience” within a particular segment: “35-50 males into tech”, for example, and audience that advertisers can buy access to. This may even get to the level of individual targeting (for example, Centralising User Tracking on the Web – Let Google Track Everyone For You). Now, secondly, as personal endorsers of a particular company, service or product.

The ‘recent changes’ announcement URL looks like a general “change notice” URL – – so I’ll repost key elements from the announcement here….

“Because many of [us] are allergic to legalese”, announcement goes, “here’s a plain English summary for [our] convenience.”

We’ve made three changes:

Firstly, clarifying how your Profile name and photo might appear in Google products (including in reviews, advertising and other commercial contexts).

You can control whether your image and name appear in ads via the Shared Endorsements setting.

Secondly, a reminder to use your mobile devices safely.
Thirdly, details on the importance of keeping your password confidential.

The first change – how my Profile name and photo might appear in Google products – is the one I’m interested in.

How your Profile name and photo may appear (including in reviews and advertising)

We want to give you, and your friends and connections, the most useful information. Recommendations from people that you know can really help. So your friends, family and others may see your Profile name and photo, and content like the reviews that you share or the ads that you +1’d. This only happens when you take an action (things like +1’ing, commenting or following) – and the only people who see it are the people that you’ve chosen to share that content with. On Google, you’re in control of what you share. This update to our Terms of Service doesn’t change in any way who you’ve shared things with in the past or your ability to control who you want to share things with in the future.

Feedback from people you know can save you time and improve results for you and your friends across all Google services, including Search, Maps, Play and in advertising. For example, your friends might see that you rated an album 4 stars on the band’s Google Play page. And the +1 you gave your favourite local bakery could be included in an ad that the bakery runs through Google. We call these recommendations shared endorsements and you can learn more about them here.

When it comes to shared endorsements in ads, you can control the use of your Profile name and photo via the Shared Endorsements setting.

Here’s a direct link to the setting… [if you have a Google+ account, I suggest you go there, uncheck the box, and hit “Save”]. I never knowingly checked this – so presumably the default is set to checked (that is, with me opted in to the “service”?

I never knowingly checked this - so presumably the defualt is "checked"?

If you turn the setting to “off,” …

you’ll get hassled:

F**k you, google...

or to put it another way,

…your Profile name and photo will not show up on that ad for your favourite bakery or any other ads. This setting only applies to use in ads, and doesn’t change whether your Profile name or photo may be used in other places such as Google Play.

I have no idea what the context of Google Play might mean. I do have an Google Android phone, and it is tied to a Google account. It is largely a mystery to me, particularly when it comes to knowing who has access to – or has taken copies of – my contacts. I have no idea what Google Play services I have or have not been opted in to.

If you previously told Google that you did not want your +1’s to appear in ads, then of course we’ll continue to respect that choice as a part of this updated setting.

I’m not sure what that means? If I’ve checked “do not want my +1’s to appear in ads” box, will the current setting be set to unchecked (opt out of shared endorsements)? Does the original setting still exist somewhere, or has it been replaced by the new setting? Or is there another level of privacy setting somewhere, and if so how do the various levels interact?

This is on my current Google+ settings page:

shared endorsements

and I can’t see anything about +1 ad opt outs, so presumably the setting has changed? I’d have thought I’d have opted out of allowing +1s to appears in ads (had I known: a) that +1s may have been used in ads; and b) that such a setting existed), but presumably that fact passed me by (more on this later in the post…) Or I had opted out and the opt-out wasn’t respected? But surely not that…?

For users under 18, their actions won’t appear in shared endorsements in ads and certain other contexts.

Which is to say, ‘if you lied about your age in order to access to particular services, we’re gonna sell the ability for advertisers to use you to endorse their products to your friends’.

So that’s the “helpful” explanation of the terms.. what do the actual terms say?

When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide licence to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes that we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights that you grant in this licence are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This licence continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing that you have added to Google Maps). Some Services may offer you ways to access and remove content that has been provided to that Service. Also, in some of our Services, there are terms or settings that narrow the scope of our use of the content submitted in those Services. Make sure that you have the necessary rights to grant us this licence for any content you submit to our Services. [This para, or one very much like it, is in the current terms.]

If you have a Google Account, we may display your Profile name, Profile photo and actions you take on Google or on third-party applications connected to your Google Account (such as +1’s, reviews you write and comments you post) in our Services, including displaying in ads and other commercial contexts. We will respect the choices you make to limit sharing or visibility settings in your Google Account. For example, you can choose your settings so that your name and photo do not appear in an ad.

Hmmm.. so maybe the settings do – or will – have a finer level of control (and complexity…) associated with them? I wonder also whether those two paragraphs can work together? If I comment on a Google+ page, or maybe tag a brand or product in an image I have uploaded, could Google create a derivative work as part of a shared endorsement by me?

Looking Around Some Other Google+ Settings

Finding myself on my Google+ settings page, I had a look at some of the other settings…

Be wary of implict reveals?

Hmm… this could be an issue, if checked? If things are shared to people in my circles, and folk get automatically added to my circles if I just search for them, then, erm, I could maybe unwaringly opt a page in to my circles?

circle shares

But if I do search for someone and they’re added to my circles on my behalf, what circle are they added to?

so which do they get added to?

Not being paranoid or anything, but I can now also imagine something like the following setting appearing on my main Google account insofar as it relates to search, for example:

Google Search Pages
_ Automatically add a Google+ Author to my circles if I click through on a search result marked with a Google+ Author tag.

So what other settings are there that may be of interest?

Several to do with automatically tampering with my content (as if false memory syndromes aren’t bad enough!)

mess with my stuff...

do stuff to my stuff

I seem to remember these being announced, but didn’t think to check that I would automatically be opted in.

Note to self: When Google announces a new Google+ service, or service related to Google accounts, assume I get automatically opted in.

Any others? Ah, ha… a little something that invisibly enmeshes me a little deeper in the Google knowledge web:

link me in to the Google knowledge graph

Here’s the blurb, rather bluntly entitled Find My Face: “Find my face makes finding pictures and videos of you easy and more social. Find my face offers name tag suggestions so you, or people that you know, can quickly tag photos. Any time someone tags you in a photo or video, you’ll be able to accept or reject name tags created by people you know.”

So I’m guessing if I opt in to this, if Google recognises that I’m in a photo, and someone I know views that photo, they’ll be prompted to tag me in it. I wonder if Google actually has a belief graph and a knowledge graph? In the first case, the belief graph would associate me with photos Google’s algorithms think I’m in. In the second case, the knowledge graph, Google would associate me with photos where someone confirms that I am in the photo. If you want to get geeky, this knowledge vs. belief distinction, where knowledge means “justified true belief”, has a basis in things like epistemic logic (which I came across in the context of agent logics) – I’d never really thought about Google’s graph in this way… Hmmm…

Here’s how it works, apparently:

After you turn on Find my Face, Google+ uses the photos or videos you’re tagged in to create a model of your face. The model updates as tags of you are added or removed and you can delete the entire face model at any time by turning off Find my Face.

If you turn on Find my Face, we can use your face model to make it easier to find photos or videos of you. For example, we’ll show a suggestion to tag you when you or someone you know looks at a photo or video that matches your face model. Name tag suggestions by themselves do not change the sharing setting of photos or albums or videos. However, when someone approves the suggestion to add a name tag, the photo and relevant album or video are shared with the person tagged.

So can Google sell that face model of me to other parties? Or just sell recognition of my face in photos and videos as a service, or as part of an audience construction process?

I guess at least I get to approve any photo tags though… Or do I?

Act on my behalf

So if I search for someone on Google+, they’re added to my circles, which means that if they tag me in a photo when prompted by Google+ to do so, their tag is automatically accepted by me by virtue of this proxy setting I seem to have been automatically opted in to? Or am I reading these settings all wrong?

Ho hum, I guess it’s not even the legalese I’m allergic to… it’s understanding the emergent complexity and consequences that arise from different combinations of settings on personal account pages…

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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