Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) has asked the Federal Trade Commission to take a closer look at Google’s “Shared Endorsements” ads. On Thursday when the New York Times story discussing the program was published it initially appeared that Google was introducing a new “Sponsored Stories”-like ad unit.
I was confused at first (before talking to Google), as were others. However as we later clarified Shared Endorsements is not a new ad unit. The company was merely expanding the range of social and user-generated content types that could be included in search and display ads.
I was quite critical of the move at first. However since Friday Google has done a good job of notifying people about the change and giving them an opportunity to opt-out (people are unlikely to opt-in to such programs).
Across devices Google has put a prominent notice at the top of its homepage.
Opting out is two clicks away. However the relevant screen is easy to get to and Google offers a straightforward explanation of how the ad unit works and what the implications are of not opting out.
Members of the FTC are furloughed and so cannot initiate an investigation right now. Regardless, this is a situation where an FTC investigation may be unwarranted. There isn’t any “deception” going on.
The larger issue of opt-out vs. opt-in is worthy of discussion in a broader context: when do consumers need to opt-in vs. being permitted to opt-out? As mentioned there’s substantial survey based evidence that most consumers would not opt-in to most online advertising programs, which would compromise the ability of publishers and ad networks to serve more targeted ads and maximize revenue.