Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Google Turns On Social Advertising, but Holds Back on Larger Personalization Play

Google will soon include users’ names and faces as endorsers in its advertising, it said today, via a terms of service change that will go into effect November 11.

It’s the kind of advertising (your friend likes this brand, maybe you will too!) that has grown familiar to users of Facebook. But since this is Google, the ads draw from a smaller pool of active social networking users, yet have the potential to be displayed on Google’s much broader network of websites.

The endorsements will come from people who have opted into Google+, which has 390 million monthly actives across Google.

So it’s possible that even people who don’t use Google+ will see endorsements based on public content.

What’s important here is that Google has long withheld itself from combining personal data and advertising, even as its social media competitors show the effectiveness of personalization by building growing businesses around it.

In the process of developing the endorsement product, the company thought about crossing that line, but instead launched something that’s considered in bounds, said multiple sources.

(To be sure, Google does personalize ads, for instance in Gmail, but only for users’ own logged-in experiences and not in the display advertising it sells around the Web.)

Google’s stance on the issue actually dates back to an agreement DoubleClick made with the U.S. government in 2001, years before the display advertising company was bought by Google in 2007. Since then, Google has kept a church-state separation between advertising and user information, even as CEO Larry Page has reorganized the company in recent years to be more unified.

Google has actively discussed a way to move past that ban on advertising personalization, said multiple sources. If those conversations had gone differently, today’s announcement might have been a bigger deal, but instead it is a baby step.

The Google privacy policy reads: “We will not combine DoubleClick cookie information with personally identifiable information unless we have your opt-in consent.”

But still, the new endorsements are a careful step near that commitment, since they are display ads that feature users’ names and photos. But there is a difference, even if it’s hard to explain, said one of the sources.

“This is the ability to put a user’s photo or name in an ad, not a combination of that data,” the source explained. Seeking active consent from users is a “bright line” that Google is staying away from for now, but will likely eventually try to cross, the source said.

Latest Video

View all videos »

Search »

I’m a giant vat of creative juices.

— David Pogue on why he’s joining Yahoo