Saturday, October 12, 2013

New policies at Facebook, Google, especially regarding product endorsements, stir "privacy" concerns

There is some new controversy over Google’s announced change in its TOS policy, in which it will propagate user “endorsements” of products in ads across its sites, without specific permissions, starting Nov. 11.   In general, it seems that the recommendations will appear only on ads sent to whitelisted friends in Google+.  Users can opt out, and must be 18 or over. 
  
To be fair, the first link to give is Google’s own summary of its changes in policy, here
  
Facebook has recently changed its privacy policy recently to make it harder for people to hide their public profiles and timelines from search engines where people (like employers) could find them. 
   
Facebook’s explanation for its own change is here

All the major media have their own accounts of these changes, and the details vary (especially for Google’s).  The Wall Street Journal, has a “Business and Finance” headline, “Google’s New Ad Star: You”, link here. 
     
The New York Times reports “Google to Sell User’s Endorsements”, link here

The NYT points out that Facebook already has a similar practice.
  
Cecilia Kang for the Washington Post writes “Google to put user photos, comments in online ads”, here
  
The developments could help answer business model questions, about how Internet companies will respond to the challenge of "do not track" and possible weakening of Section 230 (downstream liability protection for user content), especially with respect to state criminal prosecutions. 

These developments will require a lot of scrutiny.  Many questions occur.  Journalists, for example, are supposed to be publicly objective.  If an endorsement gets propagated, does that create a conflict of interest?  If a teacher’s endorsements seem to show indifference to certain students, or a manager’s endorsements show antipathy toward certain kinds of employees, could this create legal problems?  Of course, the whitelisting helps, but “listserver-mode” posts do get out into the wild, too.  It’s true, some people like to know what their friends endorsed.  I don’t pay as much attention to that as a lot of people. I can imagine other problems, like with right of publicity, since the Internet can make anyone a “public figure”.
  
 In 2005, when I had the ruckus as a substitute teacher (see July 27, 2007), one item that school officials looked at was the “about me” page on AOL (I had copied it to my site), which included “likes” or, so-to-speak, “endorsements”.  If one of these “favorite movies” as a gay movie involving legal minors (“Edge of 17”), you can imagine what they could have thought.
This development bears further watching.   


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