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Google Adding Photos, Comments, Names of Users in Ads

If Facebook's new search policy wasn't bad enough to swallow, news of Google's new revision to its terms of service policy may cause you to turn off the Wi-Fi, disconnect the Ethernet and pull out a book. The search engine giant, following Facebook's lead in the advertising landscape, has decided that you should star in advertisements that your friends might see. Will you get paid? Of course not.

Beginning November 11, advertisements will begin showing Google user's profile pictures, names and comments shared on Google Plus. These ads will be visible in Search, Google Maps and Google Play, but will not affect those without Google Plus accounts, and those who use Google without signing in. The company said it's making this personalized ad move because recommendations from people you know "can really help".

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"We want to give you – and your friends and connections – the most useful information. Recommendations from people you know can really help," the company states. "So your friends, family and others may see your Profile name and photo, and content like the reviews you share or the ads you +1’d. This only happens when you take an action (things like +1’ing, commenting or following) – and the only people who see it are the people you’ve chosen to share that content with."

Here's how it works. You jump on Google Play, purchase an album, and give it a four-star review. The publisher, in promoting the album, wants an advertisement splashed across all Google services. Thus when your Google-ized friend does a search, your face, rating and possible a portion of the review will be inserted into the ad.

"The +1 you gave your favorite local bakery could be included in an ad that the bakery runs through Google," the company adds. "We call these recommendations shared endorsements."

The good news is that Google Plus users can opt out by heading here. Make sure you're signed into Google, scroll down to the bottom of the page, and uncheck the "Based upon my activity, Google may show my name and profile photo in shared endorsements that appear in ads" option. After that, click on that big blue "Save" button with pride. As shown on that page, this option is turned on by default, which, honestly, should not be the case.

Marc Rotenberg, the director of online privacy group EPIC, believes the ads used on Facebook and those Google plans to use next month unfairly commercializes the images of Web surfers. They're a huge privacy problem, he told Reuters on Friday, and that the Federal Trade Commission should probably review Google's policy change to see if it violates a consent order Google entered into back in 2011. The company is prohibited from retroactively changing users' privacy settings.

For those under 18, Google users may see shared endorsements from others, but their own name and profile will not be paired with shared endorsements in ads and certain other contexts. Even more, if any user chooses to opt out having their faces and names in ads, Google will still showcase public reviews for products or places to friends.

"Changing this setting does not impact how your name and photo might look in a shared endorsement that is not in an ad," the company said. "For example, when you share a music recommendation that is displayed in the Play Store."

BusinessWeek points out that although Google and Facebook have come under fire for violating users' privacy in the past, Google seems to be taking a careful approach with this new "social" ad system. Facebook got in trouble for its social ad network because it wasn't clear in what it was actually doing, but Google is listing exactly what will happen, and even provides an easy opt-out before the ads go live.

One way to stay out of the social ad network is to not use social features on Google. Users can also choose not to share reviews with friends and those following on Google Plus. 

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