Google’s New Ad Policy: Shared Endorsements are Your Posts


October 12, 2013

I remember the good ol’ days. It was 2006 and when I logged into Facebook (the only social profile I had), there was a “Top Friends” grid in the column to the left, my News Feed was filled with pictures of college activities from football games to ugly sweater parties, and status updates were mostly about sleeping in the library or links to trending YouTube videos. Now my Facebook feed is filled with a fair amount of updates from brands and pages, not just my friends. What happened?

Advertising happened. And now Google+ is about to experience a similar shift. The search engine giant just announced that next month they will introduce the Google version of Facebook’s sponsored stories (which were received with much controversy)—or what Google calls “shared endorsements.” With Google’s new ad policy, shared endorsements are essentially your posts.

Basically, Google+ just got a whole lot more plus you. Here’s what you need to know about Google’s new ads—excuse me “shared endorsements.”

When will Google’s new ad policy take effect?

Shared endorsements will go live on November 11th. Once it goes into effect, Google will display user’s names, photos, and comments in conjunction with brands on Google sites and across the web (To be exact, on more than 2 million sites in their display advertising network).

What are shared endorsements?

According to Google, examples of shared endorsements include: “If you search for “Italian restaurants,” you might see an ad for a nearby restaurant along with your friend’s favorable review. Or, in Google Play, you might see that another friend has +1’d a new song or album.”

Shared endorsements vs. sponsored stories – How are they different?

Shared endorsements work a lot like Facebook’s sponsored stories, but they’ve managed to avoid some of the downfalls that Facebook encountered lawsuits over. Users can decide whether they want to opt out of the shared endorsements feature and privacy settings are not affected.

Can users control who will see their shared endorsements?

Users control the visibility of +1s or posts externally from ads. This means that the way to control or restrict who can see a shared endorsement is to edit or change settings to the post itself. If you limit a particular post to a certain circle of friends, it’s only that circle of friends that will be able to see a shared endorsement that relates to that post. Google will not use restricted posts in public shared endorsements. However, if the post is public, a user’s information could theoretically show up in any shared endorsement on the internet. Therefore, whatever you post is fair game to Google (audience settings in mind) so long as you’ve agreed to shared endorsements.   

The end of an era

So, is there going to be a major backlash to Google’s shared endorsements? Are users going to retaliate against yet another push toward social advertising? Will Google back down from shared endorsements the way Facebook did with sponsored stories?

I think yes and no. There is already a lot of heated debate surrounding the announcement of Google’s new policy, especially in Europe. Currently, Google is under the supervision of the FTC for a previous privacy violation; therefore, they’re pulling out all the stops to ensure that shared endorsements do not violate users’ privacy. Since users can opt out of the feature and can control who sees what they post, I argue that shared endorsements are only an extension of what users are already posting. Therefore, they essentially control the shared endorsements that use their information. Yes, it’s a watered down version of a blatant advertisement, but it’s also a helpful adaptation of already posted content. And, you can completely opt out of the feature if you want.

This is where I get a little sentimental—gone are the days of a Facebook only for college students and an ad-free Pinterest or Instagram or LinkedIn or even Snapchat, but it’s the end of an era. So long as privacy is protected, users are not exploited, and “ads” are relevant and beneficial, users may want to embrace these features as noninvasive ways to discover brands as they truly are— through the eyes of consumers.