Google has made a fortune selling ads. Now it's trying to put its hundreds of millions of users to work as company pitchmen, using the profiles, pictures and recommendations of ordinary people to endorse products and services on the web.
After the policy takes effect mid-next month, users who review a video on YouTube or a restaurant could see their name, photo and comments show up in ads on any of the 2 million websites that are part of the company's display advertising network.
The practice, announced at the weekend by Google, is part of a trend on the internet. Advertisers believe that consumers place enormous value on product endorsements that come from a friend or family member, and growing numbers of web companies are trying to capture that social advertising in a systematic way.
But critics say the tactic is exploitative. People signed up for Google's services because they were free and convenient. They probably never thought their words and identities would be put in front of strangers to sell a product.
Users who casually endorse a product or song on Facebook or Google "may be exposed to unwanted and possibly misunderstood, implications", said Eric Goldman, a professor of internet law at Santa Clara University Law School. Users may opt out of the ads and anyone under 18 will be excluded.