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Privacy Policy Changes at Google: What You Need to Know

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Consumers could lose even more control over where their face and name end up online, and now, a U.S. senator is calling for an investigation.

Last week, Google announced it would soon enter the borrow-your-profile-picture advertising business, with a product it calls “shared endorsements” — basically, Google’s version of Facebook’s sponsored stories. Meanwhile, Facebook said it was eliminating a privacy option that allowed users to prevent strangers from finding them via the service’s search tool.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on Saturday raised questions about Google’s shared endorsements, and asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into the change to Google’s privacy policy.

What’s Google doing? Users who indicate they like things online by using Google’s “+1” tool may find their names and faces used in advertisements about that product. The very personal endorsement tool mirrors Facebook’s “sponsored stories” product. Users who alleged their photos were used without permission joined a class-action lawsuit over sponsored stories, which was settled in August for $20 million.

Google is stepping into the endorsements area with a bit of caution. Users are now seeing an alert when they visit the site calling attention to the change. There’s a one-page explanation here (though it is inexplicably combined with a simplistic warning about mobile device security).

And it is fairly easy to opt-out by clicking here, as long as you scroll to the bottom of the page and uncheck the box that reads “Based upon my activity, Google may show my name and profile photo in shared endorsements that appear in ads.”

NOTE: If the box is checked, you agree to have your name and face appear in ads.

Google is already operating under a consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission, the product of a lawsuit by the agency involving alleged privacy violations related to WiFi snooping, which requires the firm to submit to privacy reviews. Markey wants the FTC to see if Google’s shared endorsements is in compliance with that consent decree.

“This shift in Google’s policy raises a number of important questions about whether Google is altering its privacy policy in a manner inconsistent with its consent agreement with the Commission and, if the changes go into effect, the degree to which users’ identities, words, and opinions could be shared across the Web,” he wrote in his letter.

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Be sure to read Google’s new policy, and make a conscious decision about whether you want the firm to use your personal information in advertisements without any compensation.

There isn’t much Facebook users can do to react to that firm’s change of policy around profile searchability. Starting soon, users who enabled the function preventing strangers from finding them simply won’t have the option any longer. Users can still block individual users from finding them, but they must do this pro-actively, one non-friend at a time.

Revisiting other Facebook privacy settings is a good idea. While your name and profile photo are visible to the world, most of your other information can be made private. Facebook’s “View As…” feature can help you see what strangers can see about you.

Image: iStock

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