Monday, October 14, 2013

Why Google’s new Terms of Service are good news for you, and why you think otherwise

Google announced it is updating its terms of service. And immediately, media began a feeding frenzy about how terrible their new terms are for you, the user. Always the contrarian, I actually believe the opposite to be true.

In fact, there are many other businesses who, throughout your day, offer similar services to what Google is attempting to do and you are perfectly happy about these offerings. Let’s review.

First of all, what is Google changing? I have taken the liberty to copy/paste part of their actual announcement:

Terms of Service update
October 11, 2013

We are updating the Google Terms of Service. The new Terms will go live on November 11, 2013 and you can read them here.

Because many of you are allergic to legalese, here’s a plain English summary for your convenience.

We’ve made three changes:

First, clarifying how your Profile name and photo might appear in Google products (including in reviews, advertising and other commercial contexts).

You can control whether your image and name appear in ads via the Shared Endorsements setting.

Second, a reminder to use your mobile devices safely.

Third, details on the importance of keeping your password confidential.

So all the hoopla is about the first one, where Google announces they might use your profile (including your picture) in Google products. What are Google’s products?

Well, first and foremost it is their search product. This is their bread and butter, and you rely on it for EVERYTHING, wherever you are and whatever device you are on. If it is not there, even for less than 5 minutes, the internet falls apart. OK, that is perhaps a little exaggerated. But not having access to answers at any time of the day and night is what you have come to expect.

If you want to see what the world is searching for, Google offers its analytics here, and you can track charts for the most popular searches across almost any conceivable category.

What the new terms of service mean is that Google is allowing themselves to use content and information you have shared freely yourself to be used to enhance search results.

Three things: 
  1. If you don't want Google to do this, you can opt out! It is right there in Google’s announcement, and all it takes is a few clicks. 
  2. If you don't want ANYTHING to come out that could possibly embarrass you, stop sharing stuff you might be embarrassed about in the first place. You are your own editor in chief, and have your own brand image to manage. This is an important responsibility that you have to take seriously. As my wise old grandmother used to say: if you don’t want people to know, don't talk about it. 
  3. You can opt out! Or did I mention that already?
Now let’s examine the role media plays in this story. Using Google search, I looked up “Google new terms of service” and limited the results to “past month”. A quick scan of articles (and there are a lot of articles!) shows that almost every one of them reports Google's change in a negative light. Here is a sampling: 
  • Venture Beat: The next time you consider interacting with a brand on Google+, you might want to think twice. (Careful, Google is doing something bad! Venture Beat also accuse Google of "pulling a Facebook"!) 
  • ABC News: Google Ads May Now Feature Your Face Without Compensation (bad Google, using your profile picture for their financial gain!)
  • NY Times: Google to Sell Users’ Endorsements (really bad Google, trying to make money by selling you out)
  • Slate: Under Google's new terms of service, the company has granted itself the right to republish these so-called “shared endorsements” as marketing fodder. (Bad, bad Google: they are granting themselves rights and also are apparently dispensing marketing fodder. Disgusting!) 
  • Mashable: If you've ever been appalled to see yourself or your friends used in a Facebook ad, then you're not going to like Google's new terms of service. (Bad, bad Google. Now as bad as Facebook!)
The list goes on. And it is interesting to see that the whole tone is negative from the outset. Bad Google is out to abuse you, without you knowing it, and with no apparent benefit to you. Which is, of course, all nonsense.

Have you ever bought something on Amazon? Then surely you have seen the “People who bought…” recommendations? These now even appear without you buying something, but just looking at items. For research purposes (the things I do for you, the reader!), I looked at “Fifty Shades of Grey” and sure enough, Amazon immediately recommends about 10 other titles, including the prolific “Fifty Shades of Oral Pleasure”. When I search for “Z.E.R.O., zero paid media as the new marketing model”, my own book with co-author Joseph Jaffe, it offers 5 other books including Joseph’s three previous books. This is useful information. As a result of this feature the Albarda household now owns more books then we will probably ever read.

Do you own a supermarket loyalty card? And have you seen those coupons the cashier or machine gives you when you pay? They are (usually) based on your purchase patterns and frequency. The Supermarket knows you bought a certain type of toilet paper and someone is paying the supermarket money to try and lure you to another brand. Or buy a new variety. Or try a different flavor (probably not for toilet paper). This apparently is known as “marketing fodder” according to Slate.

From October 23 to 25 I am keynoting at the eBev 2013 conference, and leading a few panels. The event is being held at the Embassy Suites Denver Downtown Convention Center, and as I have never been to Denver or this property I did as many travelers do: I looked them up on TripAdvisor. And now I know that, according to reviewer Brian P (with picture!) from Runsom, NJ, the property is a “Great Location For Colorado Convention Center Events”. He gave it 4 out of 5 stars.

Is this wrong? Is Amazon creepy? Do you find the Supermarket’s behavior bad? Because it is nothing different from what Google (and Facebook) is doing. Google will be showing someone that you “liked” Bud Light, or went to see “Gravity” and thought it was a great/terrible film. Or hopefully you read Z.E.R.O. and thought it was a great book (it really is!). If you were searching for “great movies to see this weekend” or “Sandra Bullock” or “What the heck is the book Z.E.R.O. about” and these type of helpful answers pop up, is that bad?

Of course not; it is quite the opposite.

Is Google doing it for financial gain? Absolutely! That is why Google is the second most valuable brand in the world. At least Google and Facebook give you the option to opt out, something that is only accomplished with your supermarket, TripAdvisor or Amazon by not using their services at all. With them “opting out” means staying out.

I guess by now you have realized that I am not as appalled by Google’s (or Facebook’s) terms of service. I always say that I live my life in full disclosure. What I disclose is up to me, and I take that responsibility quite seriously. I actually hope that some of my online behavior helps others to discover, learn, enrich or avoid things I have experienced, learned or discovered.

I alone am responsible for what you can learn from me. After all, I am my own editor in chief. And who am I going to blame if I find stuff about me I don’t like? Google?

P.S. Dear all the media slamming Google, one more point. How am I going to find more of your "articles you may like" if I opt out of everything, per your recommendations?

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