All this time Google’s been forcing Google+ on people, and now we know the goal: The search giant wants to create ads out of these users.
Starting November 11, Google will launch a new kind of advertisement, called “shared endorsements,” that ties into users’ Google+ activity. For example, if you review a restaurant on Google+ Local, your name, photo and a snippet of the review could show up when people search for that restaurant. If you give a “+1” to a product you like, that too could become ad fodder. The comments you make, things you share and entities you follow on Google+ could feed into the ad machine as well.
Google says these shared endorsements will not override your existing privacy settings. So if your comments and +1s are restricted to people in your Circles, they won’t be visible to strangers. But keep in mind that Google+ Local reviews and app reviews are always public. And if you want +1s to be private by default, you’ll need to change your settings.
Give Google credit for one thing, at least: You can opt out. Just go to this page, and uncheck the box at the bottom. (Opting out only applies to shared endorsements in ads, not in other contexts such as music reviews that friends can look at.) Google also says that for users under the age of 18, it won’t associate their names and profiles with shared endorsements in ads.
I’m not exactly outraged with Google in particular, given that other web services engage in similar practices. Facebook creates ads called “sponsored stories,” from its users’ activity, and Twitter shows “promoted tweets” from accounts that your friends are already following, mentioning the relevant friend in every advertised tweet. Neither Facebook nor Twitter allow you to opt out.
The feeling for me is more disappointment at what Google’s efforts have come to–all that time forcing new users to sign up for Google+, demanding a Google+ account to comment on YouTube and requiring real names to review apps and businesses. I once thought Google+ was meant to enhance Google’s existing services, making things easier to share in tightly-controlled ways. But the service has not lived up to its potential, and it turns out the endgame is much shallower.