It’s about to become a lot harder to remain anonymous online. Google is making it harder for users to hide their content and identities from other users. Last month, Google announced that it will soon show users’ names, photos, ratings, comments, and more in ads across the web (both on Google and affiliated display networks) to endorse advertisers’ products/services. If you’re on Facebook, you’ve probably noticed that they’re taking a similar route. They’ve removed the option for users to hide their timelines from other users, and they use user content in advertisements already. Dwindling Privacy On The Internet Both Google and Facebook say that these are minor updates. Minor though they may be, they do make it more difficult for users’ to protect the content they publish online. These companies say that they want to offer more personalized and comprehensive services to all users by displaying real, authentic content in ads. Of course, privacy experts are understandably skeptical. It’s all well and good to provide a more personalized experience. But, it’s an issue when web companies like Google and Facebook display personal content and information in a way the user never intended that information to be displayed. Deborah C. Peel, a psychoanalyst and founder of Patient Privacy Rights, told The New York Times, “We set our own boundaries. We don’t want them set by the government or Google or Facebook.” When someone posts something on a social media site, they expect it to be seen by their friends and followers. They’ve also accepted that friends of friends may see this content, in some cases. And, most people admit that nothing posted online is truly private. But, they don’t expect their content to be used in ads without their explicit permission. Of course, Google and Facebook have terms of use with fine print that say that they can use content in this way. But, that’s a sneaky way of legally getting away with displaying user content in ads. It doesn’t address loyal users’ real concerns with their content being spread around the Internet as endorsements of products and services. Don’t believe users crave privacy and control over their content? Just look to the success of Snapchat, the person-to-person picture and message sharing service that deletes the posts after they’ve been opened. They don’t want people, even their friends, to have the opportunity to save and distribute their photos and messages to other people. How the Google Ads Will Work The Google changes, which go live November 11, allow Google to show “shared endorsements.” These endorsements can be shown on Google and across over two million sites in Google’s display network. If a user follows a company on Google+, gives an artist a rating on Google Play’s music service, writes a comment on a Google+ page – it’s all fair game. Google can share that person’s name, photo, and endorsement as an ad across the Internet. Brands covet endorsements from real live consumers, especially people’s friends or acquaintances. These are the ultimate word-of-mouth endorsements that can be seen by a large audience across the web. People are more likely to purchase something if their friends endorse it. It makes sense, and yet many users are upset and generally creeped out by these new changes. Their main complaint is that these social sites aren’t making it explicit that the content they share, including their name and personal information, can be shared across the Internet at will as advertisements. So, Google is giving users the chance to opt out, and people under 18 are automatically excluded. And, if a Google+ user has shared comments with a limited set of users, only those users will see an ad with that content. Google is also giving users control over how their name and profile photo are used. Facebook may have more users (1.2 billion compared to Google+’s 390 million), but Google has a much wider reach than Facebook. Facebook’s endorsement ads are limited to Facebook. But Google endorsement ads can find their way across the entire Internet via their display advertising network. Want to find out more about the changes, including possible legal ramifications? Check out this New York Times article.