Debate Forum 10/22

Debate Center: Sales and privacy in Google’s terms of service

 By Alex Culpepper

Illustration by: Dayton artist Elliot Ward

When talk of endorsements comes up, it usually involves famous people who tell how great a product is, just like Shaquille O’Neill endorsing Gold Bond or Tina Fey with Garnier. The whole point is to get someone who you think is trustworthy or cool to endorse a product or service. Companies love this because they have someone with notable appeal who can put a familiar face on a product. But what if a company decides not to use the famous person and instead uses just anyone who claims to like a product or a service – someone who posts a comment about a video, or a restaurant or a service? That is exactly what Google is planning to do, as random users’ information will  serve as endorsements for advertisers’ products and services.

Within their new terms of service, anyone who uses Google services and sites and who publicly makes a comment about liking a restaurant, a video, a shoe store or whatever will become the newest salesperson for that product. That means a photo, a name and any comment will become an endorsement and will be seen on web pages near and far. It is called “shared endorsement,” and the logic behind it is if someone posts something positive about a product or service, then it’s fair game for advertising purposes. This also has sounded the alerts about privacy issues and user data.

Opponents of this practice claim Google has crossed what is known as the “creepy line” with regards to users’ data and personal information. They argue Google was considered one of the companies who stood tall in defense of privacy, but now with their latest sojourn into data exploitation people feel they are relaxing privacy standards and bartering with users’ personal information. Opponents further contend these endorsements amount to people unwittingly endorsing a product when they do not realize it is what they are doing.

Supporters of Google’s approach say this is really nothing new because Facebook has a similar feature, and it’s a way to help consumers make better choices because user-endorsements are a powerful selling tool – when people see familiar faces aligned with a product, they tend to buy. Besides, they say, users who make comments or cite preferences are already publicly displaying information about themselves. Supporters of Google also contend users can simply choose to opt out by adjusting their settings so they are not part of the shared advertising.

To further add complication, Google rolled out this plan amid the government shutdown, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) could not respond to inquiries. Google’s changes, though, do not begin until Monday, Nov. 11, so with the government back up and running, privacy advocates will be pushing for reviews of Google’s and other companies’ use of endorsements. Supporters of the practice will continue to advocate the effort and claim no breach of privacy will affect users.

Reach DCP forum moderator Alex Culpepper at

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

 Is Google undertaking a questionable employment of user data to sell products, resulting in possible privacy violations?


Debate Left: Gsale

 By Ben Tomkins

 Of all the things Google does with your information, treating your +1 as a personal endorsement of a product and using your image and comment in this regard is probably the least creepy. Unlike mining your private search history to tailor ads for you, you have to actually endorse a product by clicking +1. While this has obvious financial advantages for Google and its affiliates, I personally love the fact that it reduces an individual’s freedom to say and do dumb things online without any public consequences.

First and most importantly, one should never … ever … forget that Google is not some charity case that lets you use its email services because email is a right and not a privilege. It is a company, and it is there to make money. So, if you sign their user agreement, and it includes a comment privacy waiver, you are giving them the right to use your +1s as an excuse to plop your face and picture down next to whatever product you felt the need to publicly endorse anyway. I love it. I’ve been waiting for something like this for a long time. If this bothers any of you, I recommend – and thank you so much Mr. Bill Hicks, God rest your soul – looking around the world in which we live and shutting your (expletive deleted) mouth.

For far too long, individuals on this planet have been able to click the word “like” with blatant impunity. Cowardice, even. With the barest cognitive spark to the index finger, your completely unconsidered opinion has now been lobbed out into the world with profoundly less introspection and foresight than my dog gives to the plant he is currently soiling in my backyard. Barely anyone has to stand behind their opinion or their thoughts any more, and anything the universe is doing to hold people somewhat more accountable for the screed they choose to vomit onto the digital dining table at which their friends and associates eat is fine with me.

Look, I have to write these things and have them published in a newspaper that my friends, parents, my parents’ friends and total strangers might read. I have friends who don’t live anywhere near Dayton that follow what I write. Many of these topics are controversial and involve religion and politics, which are the Scylla and Charybdis of conversation. When I wrote a piece a few weeks back about rape, I was on the phone to my mother two days later because I was paralyzed by the fear I would offend her or her friends. Fortunately it didn’t, and if it did I don’t know what the hell I would have done.

Me: Um, hi Mom.

Mom: Christmas is off this year. Ass. *click*

Right? And I’m not saying this because I believe that having a piece in a newspaper now and again somehow makes me a superior authority when it comes to the freedom of speech and journalistic integrity. I’m pointing out the fact that far, far too many people don’t realize that the word “publish” applies to their posts. It’s as if they’ve forgotten that thinking a thought is not the same thing as thinking about a thought. That is extremely dangerous, and this new policy by Google will, to some degree, hold their feet to the fire.

If you +1 Chick-fil-A when they are blathering some anti-gay BS because that little button is an escape valve for the homophobic parasitic worm that lives in your brain that you don’t feel comfortable spouting to your friends …

… because they will utterly destroy you with a combination of bowling ball-smooth logic and ridicule for your mindless bigotry …

… you will now have to consider the possibility that your smiling profile picture holding your little daughter will appear next to their logo like a mug shot on the sex offender registry.

And why not? It’s not like they’re sniping words in a private email to do this. You have to actively endorse it with your +1 or comment, and you’ve signed a waiver by clicking on the Google terms of service agreement allowing them to do it. It’s the equivalent of signing a photo waiver so a company can use your image in their advertising.

You know, the Internet has made us an increasingly entitled society. We think that we should get movies for free, YouTube shouldn’t have any ads, and Gmail is some non-profit company we can use on any terms we like because the Internet is a charity case. It’s a business, and we would do well to remember that little fact because it will serve to remind us that a computer screen is not a sofa cushion fort that protects us from reality. You don’t just get a Google account for free because you live in America. Google is allowing you to use a product they have spent billions creating, and you will be using it on their terms. If you don’t want your +1 to advertise for them, get Yahoo.



J.W. Tomkins wrote a new sci-fi book called “Kharybdis.” It’s available on Amazon and his website.

Benjamin Tomkins +1


Comment: I’m not writing this because my brother wrote a novel and I’m supposed to say it’s good. I’m writing this because it’s really, really good and I stand behind my opinion.

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist, and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colo. He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of the issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at


Debate Right: I really don’t want to be an unpaid star in a Google commercial

By David H. Landon

 When issues come up regarding the rights of a private business to run its operation without the interference of government, I usually come down on the side of business. However, I have a serious problem with the decision by Google to begin using the names, faces and comments of Google users for “shared product endorsements.” This is serious breach of advertising etiquette, even if technically legal.

Celebrity endorsements are a tried and true form of product advertising that Madison Avenue has developed to perfection. Usually, it is a celebrity making the endorsement and taking home a fat paycheck for their effort. From George Foreman and the Foreman Grill, to William Shatner and Priceline, to Danica Patrick with GoDaddy and Rihanna with Cover Girl, these celebrities are used every day to sell soap. Some of us can even remember Broadway Joe Namath in a commercial wearing and selling Beautymist pantyhose. Celebrity sold products then, and celebrity sells products now.

Every once in a while, the investment in a celebrity backfires. Case in point: Tiger Woods circa golf-club-thru-the-car-window-by-aggrieved-wife. The brands that Tiger was hawking quickly left, for obvious reasons.

But what Google is proposing is something totally different. Now, within the terms of the new service agreement, anyone who uses Google services and sites can become a spokesperson for a product that Google sponsors are promoting. If you go online and make a positive comment about, for example, a recent dining experience, your name, your picture and the review can now be scooped up by Google and placed in an ad for the restaurant without any attempt to get your permission. The theory behind this form of marketing is called “sponsorship theory.” People are more likely to believe a sales pitch if it comes from someone other than the entity benefiting from the pitch. It is unsolicited praise. One assumes that in these instances the one who is delivering the message is being candid and forthright.

The problem with this setup is very real. It starts us down a slippery slope from which there may be no return. I can foresee circumstances where your privacy will be violated. Let’s say that you are using Google to research a medical condition. Let’s say that you are concerned about male-pattern balding and you spend time on the Internet researching the newest drugs being developed to repopulate the hair on your noggin. That should not put you into a pool of potential customers of the folliclly challenged. Nor should your Internet interest in a medical condition make you the topic of a commercial for Rogaine. But we have started down that very path with the change in the service agreement by Google. We have officially crossed the “creepy” line with the latest decision by Google.

The encroachment by government and corporate America into our individual freedoms has been occurring at a frightening pace under the watch of current administration. The list of encroachments is long and growing every day. From forcing us to purchase Obamacare at higher premiums with fewer choices, to attempts to limit our religious freedoms, to attempts to limit our freedom of speech, every day we face challenges to our individual liberties. This administration has demonstrated that it cares little about freedom.

It should come as no real surprise that Google’s top management shares the contempt for freedom and privacy of Obama and his government. Given their history, it should really come as no surprise that Google has joined the assortment of other corporations attempting to take away our freedoms and invade our privacy. While we want to use the Internet and click on search engines, we do not want to give away all rights to privacy as part of the bargain in order to use those products.

Google managers and employees were some of the strongest supporters of the Obama Administration. During his first run, Google employees donated around $803,000 to Obama’s presidential campaign, according to the website Among corporate employees, only staffers at Goldman Sachs and Microsoft gave more. In the more recent presidential campaign, Google contributed much more than simply their treasure. There are reports that the much-ballyhooed data-mining campaign by the Obama campaign, which helped Obama raise a record amount of money, was at least in part designed by Google executives. Many of those same Google executives are now members of the Obama Administration. Perhaps my mistrust of Google’s new policy is at least in part due to the role they are playing in this out of control, freedom-sucking administration.

Google has suggested that we can simply opt out of their use of our photos and information by changing our privacy settings so that we are not part of their shared advertising. I have a suggestion for this monster, left-leaning corporation. Why not make it so that we have to opt in to the shared advertising experience? I really don’t want to help sell products for Google’s advertisers that then put more money into the pockets of Google, a corporation that is in bed with an administration intent on destroying our basic individual freedoms.

David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at


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