Pat Pilcher: Shame on you Google

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Google headquarters near San Francisco.
Google headquarters near San Francisco.

It is somewhat ironic that "Don't be evil" is the corporate mantra of Google and that this was coined by a Google exec as an unsubtle sideswipe at competitors, many of whom Google felt were exploiting their users.

I say this is ironic because Google are about to update their Terms of Service. This will result in users of the Google+ service having their profile name and photo plastered over adverts by the search giant as unpaid user endorsements.

If making these endorsements opt-out only and not providing even a smidgeon of the massive revenues Google are bound to be collecting for these endorsements isn't exploitative, I'd like to know what is.

So how does it work? In layperson speak, if you're a Google+ user and you've liked (or in Google parlance +1'd), followed, or even commented on a particular product or service, your Google+ connections could start to see your profile picture and Google+ name on Google adverts for that product or service.

Googles response to criticisms of this is likely to involve its PR team to putting some positive spin on the situation by stating that Google+ users can opt out.

I'd like to point out that it'd be far more ethical to provide an "opt-in" choice rather than making each and every google+ user a revenue generating product endorser by default.
Additionally Googles also claim that an endorsement will only ever happen when you +1, comment, share or follow.

But hang on isn't that just weasel speak for doing just about anything on Google+?

Taking that into account then using Google+ could become a lot like tip-toeing through a minefield as users seek to being linked to avoid unsavoury endorsements.

Worse still, this move represents a new low for a company whose corporate catch-phrase is "don't be evil".

The spin has already started. According to the Google shared endorsements page "You're in control: Your content is only shared when you choose, and shared endorsements don't impact who can see your content or activity". The reality however is that Google+ users are only ever going to be in control if Google educates them about how to opt-out when an opt-choice in would have been far more ethical.

Then there's the not so small issue of money. If I endorse something and Google are creaming revenues off my endorsement, why don't I get a share? After all, isn't it my profile, mugshot and name that is being put out there?

Worryingly, there's also plenty of scope for endorsement related gaffes. Imagine if for instance you ended up following, sharing, +1ing or even commenting about something you don't actually like, or even find totally offensive.

Imagine if you followed, shared or even commented about a seemingly legitimate organisation, only to later find out it was actually a front financed by a neo Nazi movement advocating some pretty horrific stuff.

Imagine your horror as you found out that all your Google+ connections are now seeing your face and name associated with this stuff. Sadly this sort of thing is not only theoretically possible, but also probable.

So how worried should Google users be? Evil is a strong word, and equally important, a relative term in that there are varying degrees of being evil. In this day and age when governments can snoop on us with little to no oversight or accountability, worrying about being used as an advertising stooge by an online service looks a whole lot like very small beer indeed.

So at the end of the day, the million dollar question is this - is Google evil? It is arguable that they have made some effort to be up front about the looming changes to their terms and conditions, in that they've said what they will do, and soon they'll actually be doing it. Compared to the governments of New Zealand and other western democracies ..... that's arguably saint-like given the lack of integrity shown by our own law makers.

Before the howls of disapproval start and mail bags of hate mail begin to pile up, the good news is that google have given Google+ users the ability to do something about it.

Simply head to the 'Google shared endorsements page' and un-check the "Based upon my activity, Google may show my name and profile photo in shared endorsements that appear in ads" then click the blue save button.

If enough of us do this, Google may hopefully reconsider their actions. Here's hoping they choose not to be evil because this move really stinks.

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