Google's "shared endorsements"

The NYTimes Bits Blog this morning alerted me to a NYTimes story by reporters Claire Cain Miller and Vindu Goel about Google's announcement this morning that it will change its terms of service to permit Google to take user endorsements and place them in advertising that Google sells and publishes.

As far as I can tell, there is no provision about sharing advertising revenue with the Google users who supply the endorsements.

ReaganI ran a redline of the new ToS (Google says it will be effective November 11, 2013) against the current ToS, and have posted that redline here.

Other changes in the new Google ToS are modest: there is a public service announcement about detaching from your phone while driving; there is an admonition to protect your password; and some singular nouns are made plural in boilerplate disclaimers.

The change to expressly provide that user endorsements may be used in ads, that is a big change. Though the change is implemented in a single paragraph:

"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 your name and photo do not appear in an ad."

The NYTimes story states that "Google had previously shown so-called Plus 1s, votes of approval similar to Facebook likes, in ads across Google sites and its ad network." I don't see express permission for Google to do so in the current ToS; perhaps I missed it, or perhaps there is another set of terms that overlays the ToS and is specific to Google+.

The current ToS has a restriction on Google, a restriction that is retained in the new ToS announced today, expressed as follows: "The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones."

How do you reconcile such a limitation with either the current +1 program or the new Facebook-like ad program? Maybe it's the verb "promote," or maybe Google is taking the position that there is no personality right or user content inherent in endorsements?

A lot of things are converging at the same time. Dave Eggers' new novel teases that Facebook, Google and Twitter are all of a feather and will merge. So far I am reading a fundamental respect for user content in at least the prospectus summary section of the Twitter S-1, so, I'd place that service as above the move that Google is making here. Google is at least permitting users to opt out of the use of endorsements in ads. Facebook appears committed to obscuring the distinction between organic and paid content.

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