October 15, 2013
Google announced that beginning in November, it may display users’ names, photos from their profiles, ratings and reviews in social advertisements, an approach called “shared endorsements.” Social ads can potentially reproduce the word-of-mouth endorsement from friends as an online experience. Google may face a challenge to get users comfortable with the idea of giving endorsements, while some question their value and others raise privacy issues.
“Many of Silicon Valley’s most popular sites say that such social-context ads are more useful — and maybe even less annoying — than traditional types of online advertising,” explains The Wall Street Journal. “But they have raised the hackles of privacy advocates, and advertisers have yet to fully buy into their effectiveness.”
Google is expanding the kind of content that can appear in ads and users who use their Google accounts to sign into third-party apps and sites might also see their information in Google ads. The company has not detailed which apps, what activity, and where such ads might be.
Google users’ information, ratings, and reviews can be displayed in social advertisements by default, although users can opt out and change their ratings and reviews at any time.
“We think it’s a problem,” says Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “It’s a commercial endorsement without consent and that is not permissible in most states in the U.S.”
“The privacy and security of our users is one of our top priorities,” Google said in a statement. “We believe our Terms of Service updates are a positive step forward in clarifying important privacy and security details for our users, and are in full compliance with the law.”
Most major social media companies, such as Twitter and Facebook, have attempted to integrate information from users into ads with varied success. Twitter features users’ names in ads, while Facebook offers its famous “Like” button.
For Facebook, social ads are the center of its business, but it is beginning to reply on other, more traditional kinds of online ads. Some marketing companies are questioning the worth of social signals such as “like” and they continue to study the correlation between social ads and buying behavior.
“In a world where we are besieged by marketing and advertising messages, one of the ways to cut through clutter is to have someone that you know and trust’s opinion,” says David Cohen, the chief media officer of agency UM. “Imagine every ad we were to see had some kind of endorsement associated with it. It would lose its effectiveness and start to get overbearing.”