Well, they’re at it again (no, it’s not really that sinister).

Google has recently announced an update to their Terms of Service (TOS)
which will go into effect next month. The update contains three components and
is being announced via a banner which will appear across multiple browsers (I
tested this in Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Firefox). (Figure A)

Figure A

Clicking “Learn more” will show you the details, which are the
topic of my discussion here.

These changes will go live on November 11, 2013, and affect both free
and paid users; as a Google Apps domain administrator I received an email
notice discussing the same changes.

What’s changing?

I mentioned three components to the new TOS, but there’s really only one
thing that’s changing here; two out of three components are general safety and
security reminders.

In the first place, Google will now display shared
endorsements
including your profile name and picture to people with whom
you share content (connections in Google+ for instance).

This means if you rated, followed, or reviewed a business, your
connections might see an ad for this establishment which includes your name,
picture and what you thought of it. (Figure B)

Figure B

Google stresses that “you’re in control of what you share” and
explains how you can
turn this off
in ads if you’re uncomfortable with the notion (they do state
this “doesn’t change whether your Profile name or photo may be used in
other places such as Google Play.”) The TOS change does not apply to users
who already turned this setting off; it will remain off.

Secondly, Google provides a tip to “use your mobile devices safely.”
Essentially, this boils down to “Don’t go online while driving” and “obey
the law.” Somehow I find this one akin to the disclaimer at the bottom of
beer billboards that reads “Please drink responsibly.”

Lastly, Google offers some advice on password management, why you
shouldn’t share your password, how they can alert you to
unusual activity
, and some steps on how to use 2-step
authentication
and application
specific passwords.

Why are they making this change?

Well, that depends on who you ask. Some will see this as one of many
upcoming steps on the part of Google to auction off their user data to the
highest bidder and begin building the Death Star. Others may view this as
Google just trying to stay even with Facebook, which does something similar. The
undeniable fact behind this is that Google makes the bulk of its revenue from
advertising. According to Lisa Dingman of www.therichest.com,
“It is estimated that Google derives at least 96 percent of its revenue
from ads.” Ms. Dingman goes on to state that Google earned over $51
billion last year. You can see how important the concept of meaningful
advertising must be to Google.

Speaking as someone fascinated with psychology, there is an intriguing
element to the concept of social networks sharing reviews with
friends/followers/connections. Regardless of right or wrong, it boils down to
the fact that advertisers know people love to broadcast their opinions. That’s
why many participate in surveys, since it’s a chance to be heard. A situation
like this, where your views on businesses, services, and content might be
shared with those you know, is hardly likely to raise an eyebrow or an
objection. It’s up to you to decide what the next step may be, or whether there
will be one at all.

So, that’s it?

As far as I can tell, yes – this is basically it, though there’s one
element involving Google Apps which I’ll close with. As far as the nitty-gritty
goes, I reviewed the existing TOS to compare it to the new version. Word for
word, these are the only changes I observed in the new TOS:

“To protect your Google Account,
keep your password confidential. You are responsible for the activity that
happens on or through your Google Account. Try not to reuse your Google Account
password on third-party applications.”

“If you have a Google Account, we may display your Profile name,
Profile photo, and actions you take on Google or on third-party applications
connected to your Google Account (such as +1’s, reviews you write and comments
you post) in our Services, including displaying in ads and other commercial
contexts. We will respect the choices you make to limit sharing or visibility
settings in your Google Account. For example, you can choose your settings so
your name and photo do not appear in an ad.”

There are no changes to their privacy policy, which was
last updated in June of 2013.

You can review the full Terms of Service update
page here.
If you’d like to compare it to the original, you can find that here as well.

How does this impact Google Apps?

The notification I received to my Google Apps administrative account had
much of the same details as what I’ve related here. However, one paragraph
stood out:

“This change does not affect Google Apps users today. Users will
see messaging throughout Google properties (including the Google+ notifications
box) about the update to the Terms of Service, and they will be able to update
the related user setting. However, the features associated with this change
will not be available to Google Apps domains until a later date. At that time,
there will be a control through which domain administrators can prevent their
end users from appearing in shared endorsements that Google displays in ads.
When it becomes available, this administrative setting will be defaulted to
off.”

That’s all, folks

Overall I find this a minor change to Google’s TOS, and not an
unexpected one. As I said, it’s hardly Draconian since you’re allowed to opt
out. If this change were compared to an earthquake, I’d probably give it a 2.1
on the Richter
scale
(by point of comparison the 1906 San Francisco earthquake rated about
7.8).