Google Plans to Use Our Pictures to ‘Endorse’ Ads, Here’s How to Opt-Out

| How-To

This is why I don't like paying for services through advertising: Google has announced a change in its terms of service that allow the company to use our names, personal information, and likenesses (photographs) in ads for third party companies, products, and services that we have +1'd, commented on anywhere using our Google+ login, rated on Google Play, or posted to YouTube.

In other words, Google—like Facebook—intends to show our mugs to the world on ads to other people as endorsements, complete with our photograph to sell it. Here's Google's example:

Shared Endorsements

Surprise! You're Endorsing This!

WTF is wrong with both of these companies? How does this make it out of the pot smoke-filled planning rooms where it was dreamed up? What is it about being an executive of one of these companies that leads them to lose all sight of right and wrong?

Google is euphemistically calling the scheme "shared endorsements," and it goes into effect on November 11th. Users can opt-out of this nonsense, meaning that if you don't proactively stop Google from using you, you will be used.

So let me show you how to opt out:

Google set up a page called "Shared Endorsements" to explain the "feature." At the bottom of that page is the opt-out control. It's checked by default

Shared Endorsements Opt-Out

"Shared Endorsement" Opt-Out

Listen, I understand advertising. The Mac Observer exists on advertising. Ads are a fact of life on the Internet today. I don't block ads—I think doing so is morally repugnant and equivalent to stealing—and I know that all of the marvelous services offered by Google are paid for by ads. The same goes for Facebook, though I see its services as less than "marvelous."

But this belief that our privacy, and in this case our very likeness and name, is theirs to use is worse than morally repugnant, it's morally bankrupt. It's one thing to serve up targeted ads by anonymously rifling through everything we do on Google or anywhere that uses Google+ logins or Google AdSense or AdWords, but profiting off our names and likeness?

That's beyond the pale. It's made even more egregious because we didn't know this was going to happen when we made those comments and reviews and posts and +1s up until today. That's the worst part of this.

If you know about this—and to its credit, Google announced the plan and intends to promote it so that its users are aware—don't "opt-out" and proceed to make that comment, rating, post, or +1 after November 11th, you really can't be mad. But rating that porn/dating/job search app on Google Play a year ago and having your friends and the rest of the world see that "shared endorsement" after November 11th? That's pure crap.

And such opportunities for embarrassment are just the icing on the cake of the fact that Google feels entitled to make money by pimping our faces in the first place.

It boggles my mind.

[Via The New York Times]

Popular TMO Stories



Lawsuit much?


I agree with your comments. But I just followed your directions to opt out. My box was already unchecked. Is it possible that Google has changed the default to opt out? If this is the case then I do not mind as much.


Another reason I don’t use Google+, or Facebook, and while I love Tumblr, if they try to pull this shit I’ll drop them too.


I don’t think so. I just went there and mine was checked by default.
I do wonder, after the Google-cercumventing-Safari-Security fiasco whether it makes sense to trust Google to not use our likeness anyway.

Bryan Chaffin

rabber, Shared Endorsements appear to be tied to an earlier feature limited to Google+. If you opted out then, you’re still opted out.

For all my kvetching, Google has made it easy to opt out and kept it simple—even if this kind of stuff should be opt-IN in the first place.

Lee Dronick

Tiger I don’t know successful a lawsuit would be, users agree to the terms of service and they could leave if they don’t agree, but maybe. Anyway, I suppose one could remove their photo.


Bryan - that might explain it. All in all, I hate the way Google scans my email (when I called my girlfriend Honey I started seeing ads for honey and when I told a friend I was planning a trip to Moscow I started seeing ads for hotels in Moscow) and this doesn’t engender trust either. If there was an easy way for me to leave gmail, I would. I minimize the use of their other services.

The bad thing is none of the other “free” services are any better.

Lee Dronick

Rabber, and others, you can get a free iCloud account which includes several email aliases. There are no ads.

Also getting your own domain and having it hosted is not too expensive. If you don’t want to have any website space you choose to have just an email host for a few dollars a month. Even hosting a website and email can be had for only $6 or so a month.


The solution is easier than that. Just don’t use Google services anymore. Apple mail works great, and it is not ad supported. If that doesn’t work for you, there are other options. I have been living a largely Google free existence for a while.


No Google Plus, no Facebook.

People keep trying to get me to sign up but - no, thanks.


You’ve spreading the “morally repugnant” on a bit thick there!

I do block google ads and I don’t use any of their services. It’s a choice I choose to make and don’t feel that I’m giving anything up in doing that. It comes back to “if you’re not paying for the service, you are the service” reality. No one has to use Google’s - or anyone else’s - services, and especially if one finds the terms of those services “morally repugnant”.

I’ve had this in my /etc/hosts file for as long as I can remember:

And it works for me.

I suspect Lee is right regarding legal challenges, and I imagine if there is one it will come from the European Commission who, on the whole, take a rather dim view of services such as this - and as this one is opt-out, it’s almost a no-brainer they will involve themselves sooner rather than later.

Lee Dronick

There are folks who do not have their own computer, tablet, smart phone, and often no home intermet service. They use public internet access at libraries or what have you, and use web email. For them an email client is almost always not an option.


Wouldn’t it make sense for Google to offer its users a (small) cut of the take, in exchange for turning them into shills? They’ve got the whole Adsense thing set up to monetize Youtube videos, it wouldn’t be such a big stretch to offer people money for their shared endorsements through the same channel.


Did I read that right? Blocking ads is “morally repugnant and equivalent to stealing”? Whuh? Are you serious???

Lee Dronick

MacEye, “free” services have to be paid for, advertising is how it is done. I can live with that if there are no pop-up ads or anything that covers the content. Ads in a column on the side, a footer or header, and a few inline are okay.



I understand and agree that those who offer information services have a need to pay for their time and efforts. However, I see no place on this site as well as most others that says that we HAVE to view their ads in order to view its content.

Yes, there are sites that require us to register or turn on cookies in order to view its content. But I don’t believe that it is the case here or with most web sites.

Stealing by definition is to take something without permission or by force.  If I walk into a business establishment and someone hands me a flyer filled with advertisements, I have the right to say “no thanks.” If I am told that I must view the flyer in order to stay, then I also have the choice to turn around and walk the other way.

For Google or other entities to sift through our personal e-mails or other personal information without our permission would be stealing. But we “unknowingly” agree to that when we don’t read the fine print and continue to use the service. If someone downloads an image or copies text to use elsewhere such as their own web site for financial gain without expressed permission or proper annotation, that would be considered stealing.

Perhaps I am taking things all too literally here, but to suggest that someone is doing something morally wrong by blocking ads just seems to be a bit over the top.

Bryan Chaffin

Maceye, thanks for the comment. If I understand you correctly, we’re not that far apart. Where we differ is what we consider the price of visiting/reading an ad-supported site.

The price of our content is that we get to display ads. You don’t have to look at them or click on them, but we get to display them. Blocking our ads—or any other site’s ads—means that you are not only failing to pay that price, you are actually costing that site money by using bandwidth and server resources. That’s not counting labor costs, which generally don’t have a per-view cost associated with them.

Taking my content without paying that price is stealing. If I had the power, I’d prevent every single person using an ad blocker from accessing our site.

In my opinion, the exceptions to this philosophical reality are ads that rely on non-standard technologies (like Flash) or behave in overly-intrusive ways, like pop-up windows. In either case, I think the website’s rights end where the user’s begin. You don’t have to install Flash, and pop up windows infringe on your control of your computer. Accordingly, I’ve never had a problem with people blocking either form of ad (note that we encourage advertisers not to use Flash, and we we do not allow pop-ups).

I gathered from your comment that you believe in the power to say no thanks if you don’t like the terms a business is offering. Many people have argued that they’re simply entitled to my content and shouldn’t have to see ads at all just because they don’t want to. I didn’t get that from your comment at all.

In my opinion, if a site shows too many ads, I have the right to not visit that site, but I do not have the right to consume that content anyway without paying the price. We seem to have similar viewpoints, but disagree on where to start that view, which is the price of our content.


As unbelievable as it may seem, I have not purchased or been influenced to purchase something because of an ad placed on The Mac Observer or any other site for that matter.

On the other hand, my opinions and conclusions on various topics and products have been influenced by the various articles written by you and your colleagues. The words found here have even had a positive impact on my process of thought and outlook on others.

That positive influence is of value more than most anything I can think of and for which I appreciate.

So, differing opinions or not, I thank you.

Lee Dronick

See today’s Joy of Tech comic


I opted out and I did something else. I changed my Google+ profile picture from one of me to a shot of a rippled blue field (a high altitude picture of the ocean). At least it won’t be MY picture on some bogus endorsement.

If only Google didn’t own YouTube I’d drop all connection with them.

  I don’t block ads—I think doing so is morally repugnant and equivalent to stealing

Do you watch all ads on TV? Do you not fast forward through them or walk out to get a snack or hit the head when they come on? How is that different than blocking ads on sites? How are those ads different than web site ads? Or pop-ups? How about the ads at the start of DVDs?

Personally I react based on intrusiveness. I don’t block ads but I do block Flash. I don’t mind ads at the side of a web page, or the bottom of an iOS app, but if there are pop-ups or they get too intrusive I reject the site (or the App.)

This move by Google (and FaceBook before it) is obnoxious. The biggest danger of this is Google getting it wrong. Suppose I write or +1 an article about how XYZ store is a haven for drug dealers and they need to be shut down immediately. With what I’ve been reading it’s very possible that Google’s computers will take this and put my name and picture on an ad for XYZ store.

Jess Winfield

Exactly this.

“Do you watch all ads on TV? Do you not fast forward through them or walk out to get a snack or hit the head when they come on?”

Some people utterly ignore advertising, and it’s their right to do so. I for one have never ever clicked on an ad. I now use an ad blocker to simplify the process of ignoring ads, and saves system resources. You, as a content creator, just have to get used to the fact that you’re paying for the eyes of people who don’t mind seeing ads, are on public computers, or are too lazy or not tech-savvy enough to block them.

Btw, I wrote a silly little poem about Google+ last week that readers of this particular thread might enjoy. Note that my blog is ad-free and strictly for your enjoyment. (I’d post the poem here but it’s a little too long.)

Bryan Chaffin

I watch a lot of commercials for the simple reason that I like great TV and know what pays for it. But I don’t watch all commercials.

But, the comparison is erroneous. The question to ask is “Do you skip commercials,” but rather, “Do you block commercials from downloading to your DVR?” I don’t, and I will not as long as those commercials are the price for the content.

I’ve been quite consistent on this point: I’m not arguing that you have to click on ads or even look at them–that’s clearly preposterous. If you artificially stop them from even displaying, however, you’re stealing.

There is a philosophical exception, and that is donating, though i don’t like that specific word in this context. If someone is directly paying us and then blocking ads, that’s a fair trade.

Otherwise, there is no way to rationalize away the reality that blocking our ads means we don’t get paid for the content you are consuming, and worse, that you are actually taking money out of our pockets by using my bandwidth and my server.

The same is true for every other ad-supported site.

Jess Winfield

I’d like to add my thanks and admiration for your and MacObserver’s work, but I still disagree on this point. You draw your line in the sand thus: “If you artificially stop [ads] from even displaying…you’re stealing.” But that is precisely what I do when I hit the “skip” button on my DVR. So how is the comparison erroneous?

The fact is that technology has found, in many cases, a way around the annoyances of advertising. That’s why most of what you’re probably referring to as “great” TV now comes from subscriber-driven content creators: HBO, Netflix, Showtime, etc. It’s a shifting paradigm, and just as the music industry is doing, other creators of digital or digitizable content (of which I am, regrettably, one) will have to find a way to shift with it, rather than fight it. Perhaps the answer is, as you suggest, figuring out a way to block adblock users from your site…but then offer an ad-free subscription version. And/or, put a banner on the site that notes “This site is paid for by displaying ads on our pages. If you use an ad-blocker, please consider CLICKING HERE to add our site to your exceptions list.”

FYI, I have added to mine.

Bryan Chaffin

Jess, I thank you sincerely and gratefully. smile

I readily acknowledge that the line I draw for commercials is subjective, but to clarify, i think a user allowing ads to load and ignoring them is the same as a TV watcher allowing commercials to be recorded only to skip them. That seems a crystal clear analog to me.

Note, however, that I know the difference between subscription TV shows and ad-supported shows. My favorite shows are currently network shows.

I very much agree with you that the models are shifting in TV.  What Netflix (and maybe Amazon) are doing is shaking things up pretty hard, and in a great way. Showtime and HBO also do great work, but that’s not what I thinking about when I mentioned “great TV.”

Should everyone block ads online,  models will shift there, too. The reality is that most ad-supported content will either go away or degrade (even further) in quality. An invisible and automated micropayment system would turn content creation and consumption into a true meritocracy, but I don’t see that happening.

Either way, that doesn’t change the equation on one’s actions relating to one’s content consumption.

I love the Seuss riff on Google + you posted.

Thanks again.

Jess Winfield


If you’re a writer like me, you just want one goddamn person to give up his or her stubborn uninformed view and change his or her mind. So you can rest well tonight, I have uninstalled AdBlock.

Prolly just because you liked my Seuss thing, but still.

And by the way, if I can change my mind, this could also happen: “An invisible and automated micropayment system would turn content creation and consumption into a true meritocracy, but I don’t see that happening.”


Jess Winfield

PS, oh god, I just uninstalled AdBlocker, went to my Facebook page, and the word “prostate” appears three times. Just sayin’.

Bryan Chaffin

Jess, I’ve been tilting at this particular windmill since…we’ve been publishing for 14 years, and ad blockers became a thing shortly thereafter—and I’ve never knowingly changed a mind.

Thanks for the very reasoned conversation and thanks for considering my thoughts. Both are priceless.

Bryan Chaffin

And sorry about that whole prostate thing. Hopefully my face wasn’t on the ad in some kind of endorsement…

Log in to comment (TMO, Twitter or Facebook) or Register for a TMO account