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Google And Facebook Want You To Be Their Poster Boy / Girl. But Do You “Like” To?

by User Not Found | 11月 11, 2013

If you have been irritated by that prompt on the head of Google homepage “Hi there. Our new Terms of Service update how we display your information in content & ads“, or the same message in local languages depending on your access points, that’s because it has to be up there, to irritate you.

A month ago, on 11 October, Google announced its new policy on how Google+ users’ credentials could be used on Google ads. Although user names and pictures have been used for two years, the new policy will give Google the rights to show more online activities by Google+ users, including “thumbs-up” and comments on business or products that advertise on Google.

The new policy, called “shared endorsement” comes into effect today (11 November 2013). If you have clicked “Got it” on that irritating banner, you might be surprised, pleasantly or otherwise, to see your own picture together with that long forgotten comment appear beneath a mobile app as a testimony, although you might have downloaded the app a few years ago and do not use it any more.

This is not ground-breaking. Facebook started doing this a while ago already. In that case, called “Sponsored Story”, however, Facebook got ahead of themselves, using users’ names, pictures and “Likes” without getting the legalese out first, and ended up paying $ 20 M to settle a privacy breach case brought by a class action. As if not to be outdone by its competitor, Facebook also updated its terms by warning users that the “Who can look up your Timeline by name" setting will be removed, introducing a “Graph Search” which practically makes it possible for anyone to find anyone else on Facebook.

The ultimate reason for companies like Google and Facebook to rush out to publish your and my pictures and our “endorsements” is that, intrinsically, we trust people we know more than those we do not know. Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg (who, incidentally, was with Google earlier) was quoted in the court document by the US District Judge Lucy Koh as having said, “This is the illusive (sic.) goal we’ve been searching for, for a long time; [m]aking your customers your marketers. [...] 68% more people are likely to remember seeing the ad with their friend’s name. [...] 300% more likely to purchase.” True to her words, Facebook made $234 M through “Sponsored Stories” between the beginning of 2011 and August 2012 alone.

So, for Google this is a double-play: in addition to attaching higher price tags to its advertising channels with “endorsements”, I don’t believe we need to wait for too long before Google integrates “shared endorsements” much closer with its own payment platform, Google Wallet. As is highlighted in Strategy Analytics’ recent in-depth analysis into mobile payment, Google Wallet, despite its strengths, it’s facing stiff competition from mobile carriers, banks, online payment services, and pure play mobile payment providers as well as mobile OEMs. A higher valued, premium advertising platform to ride on its dominant position in online and mobile advertising can only help.

I’m OK generally with Google and Facebook and others updating their rules now and then and making use of my activities in a reasonable way. After all, most of us enjoy most of these services, most of which are very good services, “for free”; and admittedly, Google and Facebook do allow users to opt out. However, I can’t help having two kinds of nagging uneasiness. One is the retrospective nature of the new rules. When I clicked “Like” on a company page or posted a comment on a certain product, I wasn’t prepared, in some unknown future, to have my views exposed to a broader audience than what I meant to at that time. Or should I have known better? The other is how long the opt-out may last and how easy the opt-out is. In Facebook’s case, the user has to define on every picture shared who can view it, in addition to, if you want, re-setting the viewing rights on all the pictures already shared in the past. In a time when, as Mark Zuckerberg proudly announced recently, nearly three quarters of its monthly active users access through mobile, and smartphones and tablets are taking over point-and-shoot cameras in a big way (and maybe are also taking over our eyes and memories as a matter of fact. Remember the scene when the Queen opened the new BBC office in July?), one-by-one setting isn’t the friendliest user interface (or is it made unfriendly by design so that you won’t bother setting it up?), or how quickly the mobile apps can catch up to enable these settings.

Not to mention the timing when privacy is at the forefront of media attention—I’m not even attempting to touch upon the Angela Merkel vs. NSA thing, that’s an entirely different kind of concern, and less pertinent to me than my own pictures. So, for the time being, I’ll just be more frugal with my “Likes” and keep my cards, I mean thumbs, close to my chest.

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