Changes to Google Terms of Services coming in November 2013

Google is making some changes to their terms of service. Learn what's in store and how it might impact you or your users.

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, "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).