Where Do Google’s New Ads Fall on the Creepy Scale?

No advertisement, viral campaign, or statistic will hold the same weight as a personal recommendation. Google knows this and will soon tap into the fountain of ringing endorsements created by its users and show the names and photos of users who review and interact with various restaurants, stores, and brands in its ads.

shutterstock_97920008If you’re not familiar with Google+, let’s compare it to Facebook. Facebook Ads have with the requisite copy and photo, but also include the phrase, “So-and-so likes this.” Maybe so-and-so is a close family friend; maybe he’s a high school sweetheart who you haven’t talked to in years. But he likes the advertised brand, and you should too. The same principles will now be applied to Google+.

With personal endorsements, both Facebook and Google+ ads are validated by friends and peers giving their seal of approval. The restaurant that “so-and-so” reviewed was good enough for him to take the time to like the page or +1 a post. Users feel like the ads have more value because they involve their friends, and marketers want to spend more money on ads because of the word of mouth endorsements.

This is how Google and Facebook keep marketers from leaning too far towards just working with a social media presence or just launching an advertising campaign.

Let’s say a local brunch restaurant is about to open downtown. Their food is good, but it’s not exponentially than all the other breakfast and brunch options in the city. How do they become the new “it” place?

pictures1The restaurant will roll out the red carpet for Yelp reviewers and bloggers during their soft opening and will end their first week with several rave reviews online. The bloggers all have Google Authorship tied to their articles and like the new restaurant on Facebook.

The next step for the restaurant is posting unique content to keep people sharing, liking, and commenting (egg puns, kittens wearing berets next to crepes, etc.). Then it’s time for the ads. The copy merely introduces the concept of the restaurant, it’s the connections who liked and reviewed the restaurant that really do the selling.

While marketers are triumphantly fist pumping the air, privacy advocates are crying out in frustration and rage. Google is using activity and content for financial gain without the user’s consent? Haven’t we faced this problem enough already? What social network hasn’t come under fire for doing that?

Several bloggers have been quick to point out that the opt-out feature only applies to ads in Google. It doesn’t apply to places like Google play. In fact, Google’s exact words in the announcement were, “your Profile name or photo may be used in other places such as Google Play.” The exact other places where your name and image can be found isn’t specified. Users can’t opt out and it’s unclear exactly where their images will be displayed. That’s just asking for an FTC battle.

Badge_iLikeitFortunately, Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey is championing such a battle, and has penned a letter to the FTC explaining how Google is invading the privacy of Google+ users – again. He believes Google is violating the terms set in a 2011 settlement about the same issue.

This shift in Google’s policy raises a number of important questions about whether Google is altering its privacy policy in a manner inconsistent with its consent agreement with the Commission and, if the changes go into effect, the degree to which users’ identities, words, and opinions could be shared across the Web.

Is Google invading user privacy? Or is it simply piggy-backing off of Facebook? The battle will be waged on the creepy line. Did Google cross it? Or is it right on the verge?

About the author

Amanda Dodge