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Google May Use Your Photo in an Ad Without Your Permission

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Social Advertising

On Friday, Google alerted users that, beginning November 11th, it may display their profile photos, names, ratings and reviews in ads that they’re calling “shared endorsements.” There are a number of popular sites that do something similar, but privacy advocates are somewhat alarmed by this development.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Google responded to these concerns by saying, “The privacy and security of our users is one of our top priorities. 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.”

This Isn’t the First Time Google Has Done This. When users click the +1 button (Google’s version of Facebook’s Like button), their endorsement might have appeared in an ad previously. In addition, many other social media sites have tried integrating information about friends and followers into ads, with different degrees of success.

The chart below, based on information from The Wall Street Journal, highlights how a variety of social networks handle social advertising.


Facebook was the first social network to use endorsements in ads when, in 2007, it introduced ads that were tied to friends’ actions, such as a visit to a restaurant or an endorsement of a business. But it has had some backlash on this issue. In 2009, the company was forced to close Beacon, which was a system that automatically broadcast actions (such as purchases) on other websites back to Facebook.

Action Steps for You. Here are several things you should consider based on the developments mentioned above.

  1. Embrace Change. About the only thing you can count on in digital marketing is change. You can either resist it, or embrace it. I’d suggest embracing it.
  2. Stay Current. Once you accept the fact that digital marketing is always in a state of flux, you’ll need to stay on top of the changes. I read The Wall Street Journal. You might do that, too. (You might also subscribe to our e-newsletter to stay up-to-date.)
  3. Leverage the New Developments. It won’t be easy to leverage the changes mentioned above, but in a future post we’re going to talk about native advertising, which is coming on strong. Stay tuned for that post since we’ll provide some tips on how to use native advertising for your business.

That’s all for now. Thanks for being part of our online community. And, as mentioned, if you’re not already a subscriber to our e-newsletter, just click here and sign up today.

Jamie Turner is the CEO of the 60 Second Marketer and 60 Second Communications, a marketing communications agency that works with well-known brands and organizations. He is the co-author of “How to Make Money with Social Media” and “Go Mobile” and is a popular marketing speaker at events, trade shows and corporations around the globe.

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  • venkyiyer58

    Tell me, James: I have been reading a lot about this Google-using-your-photo-without-permission business. Is it really earth-shakingly negative? I keep thinking about it, and I do feel irritatetion at the thought that someone would use my photo without asking me. But at the end of the day, do I actually lose or gain, given my wish to establish a strong online presence?

  • Facebook User

    Good to know! Thanks Jamie…

  • Jamie Turner

    Hi Venkyiyer —

    I’m in your camp — I’m not too worried about the privacy issue, so it doesn’t bug me much.

    I was in Sweden, Amsterdam and London recently for a series of speeches and asked each audience if they were concerned about the privacy issue. About 90% said it wasn’t a problem. But when I asked an American audience about the issue, 50% said it was a problem.

    It’s interesting that there’s a cultural difference between the responses. I have a theory on this, but it’s too long for a comment. Perhaps a blog post in the future.

    In the meantime, thanks for stopping by. We enjoy your regular comments!


  • Jamie Turner

    Glad it helped!

  • treb072410

    Thanks for sharing! Thanks for giving the heads up!

  • Jamie Turner

    Glad you enjoyed it, Treb!

  • Greig Whitton

    Some thoughts:

    1. If Google (or any other social network) uses my image to make money from ads, shouldn’t they share some of that money with me? Should it make any difference whether I choose to opt into their service or fail to opt out?

    2. How will Google’s use of my image impact my personal brand equity? Will those with high personal brand equity (i.e. celebrities) be more impacted?

    3. Where do we draw the line with the commercialisation of personal information? If we don’t draw the line here, are we essentially accepting that anything published online is fair game with no liability or recompense applicable? Have we already reached that point?

    I’m not looking for definitive answers, just curious to hear what others (especially Jamie) thinks.

  • Jamie Turner

    Greig, you make some great points here. I suspect Google has updated their terms of service to say, “We’re allowed to use your photo in return for you using our software. If you don’t want us to use your photo, you can opt out of using our software.”

    Regarding drawing the line — that’s a personal issue. For me, I’m not much of a privacy advocate, so it wouldn’t bother me. But I have a friend (Ken, are you reading this?) who will absolutely think this is just another sign that big government and big business are out to get us.

    Thanks for your comments and perspectives, Greig. We always appreciate a good dialogue with members of our community.

    — Jamie
    P.S. Apologies to Ken if he is, in fact, reading this. ;-)

  • Bea Vanni

    It does bother me that social media platforms change with the pace of lightning and want to use more of our information to promote their own business intentions. Yes, I do appreciate platforms to connect with anyone I wish, but I object in some approximation that they dream up ways to leverage personal info.

    Conversely, I don’t do anything on SM that I don’t want everyone in the world to know about, and I do believe that as long as I don’t show up on some weight loss scam or other unseemly ad, visibility is the name of the game.

  • Jamie Turner

    I think you’re right about not doing anything on SM that you don’t want everyone to see. In fact, I’ve heard that College Spring Break is starting to get tamer because everyone has a camera/video — nobody wants their future boss to see them acting foolish on Facebook.

  • treb072410

    It was a great read Jamie! Thanks!