Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) has opened the door to selling user endorsements, much like its online competitor Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB), reports Claire Cain Miller and Vindu Goel for The New York Times. The company updated its terms of service to allow it to put users’ names and photos in ads across the web once the policy takes effect on November 11.

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Google’s shared endorsements

Shared endorsements, Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s name for the new program, are similar to Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB)’s sponsored stories, except that Google will give people the choice to opt out of the program, at least for now (anyone under 18 is automatically excluded). The motivation for Google, which gets most of its income from online advertising, is pretty clear. People are more likely to trust a brand if someone they know recommends it, and even the recommendation of a stranger that appears genuine can have a big impact.

This isn’t a completely new step for Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG). It has already started showing +1’s, the equivalent of Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB)’s ‘Likes’, in search results and other places, so people’s activity isn’t anonymous. But people ‘Like’ a topic specifically to endorse it, while a comment might be complimentary without being intended as a public endorsement.

 

“The trick to any advertising like this is to avoid coming across as creepy to your user base and have them say, ‘I didn’t want anyone else to know that?” said Forrester analyst Zachary Reiss-Davis.

 

Endorsement’s privacy

 

If people believe their writing is being mined for publication, it could make them more reticent to use Google+ social features, and it won’t take many bad experiences for people to be completely turned away. Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) searches and emails would be excluded from all this, supposedly because Google doesn’t consider them to be social interactions—but an email between friends certainly seems social. More likely, Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) knew that people wouldn’t accept having their private correspondence turned into ads, and they are only pushing this as far as they can.

 

 

Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) will have to be careful as it presses forward with user endorsements. Not only did Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) settle a class action lawsuit over its endorsement program, it has a stigma among some people for not respecting user privacy, something that Google has been trying to avoid.