Late last week Google unveiled their new Terms of Service, due to take effect on November 11 2013, and it caused somewhat of a firestorm across the web. Amongst the reams of legalese that flooded the document there was a small change which made a big fuss.
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.
This outraged people who stated that Google was co-opting people into becoming ads for a variety of products and services. Essentially their images, comments and approval ratings were being used to sell. The most likely people to be seeing these sorts of ads would be those that you have already connected with: friends, family, coworkers etc. This means that those closest to you would be able to see your thoughts on a variety of restaurants around the city and other Google related services.
Google has provided a few innocuous examples of this new sort of social sharing:
In these two examples your friends are searching for a new phone and a restaurant to eat at. The personal recommendations appear at the bottom of the ads and they include photos, names and reviews. Whilst Google does give you the chance to opt-out of these many people won’t do so. More often than not they’ll simply not care about what was happening…and Google knows this. Why? Because it’s happened before.
In November 2007 Facebook launched ‘Beacon’, a platform that would allow Facebook to connect with external website and import data from that site on what you’re reading, watching or listening to and display it to your friends. There was outrage to say the least. Days later MoveOn.org created a petition and (ironically?) a Facebook group asking for Facebook to remove the feature or at the very least tighten the permission controls so that the user would have end control over what was and wasn’t published.
Two years and a 9.5 million dollar lawsuit later Facebook removed Beacon from the Facebook ecosystem. Case closed (literally) right? The world got to keep their privacy…huzzah!
Not so much.
This is the Facebook News Ticker, also known as the Facebook Activity feed
It displays not only everything you’re doing on Facebook, from liking a photo to commenting on a status, but it also connects with third party websites such as the New York Times or apps such as Spotify and displays what you’re reading and what music you’re listening to (sound familiar?).
Know how much controversy there was when this debuted several years after they shut down Beacon? None. Zip. Nada.
Why? Why such controversy for the first feature and then nothing for the exact same thing a few years later?
Because users had gotten used to it. They’d gotten used to sharing their information with everyone and everything. We put up a huge amount of opposition to the first violation of privacy but nothing to the second….because more often than not we simply didn’t consider this to be an invasion of privacy…we had already become an almost totally transparent society.
Along with this Facebook heavily promotes ‘Sponsored Stories’. These are an incredibly effective form of advertising because they add a personal recommendation to a Facebook ad.
The question is how is this any different from the advertising that Google is proposing? It isn’t.
Personal recommendations are the lifeblood of advertising and marketing. Any marketer worth their salt will tell you that the best form of advertising is word of mouth, of personal experience. This is because it gives a potential customer a name and a face that they trust for them to rely on when it comes to making a final decision. You’re far more likely to take the advice of a friend than you would an advertising.
Google’s not going to change this. They know that despite the backlash that people will eventually come to accept this as a natural part of life.
Welcome to the Internet 3.0. Where you’re both a user and an advert.