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Google to Put User Photos, Comments in Online Ads

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 across the Web.

After the policy takes effect Nov. 11, users who review a video on YouTube or a restaurant on Zagat.com 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 controversial practice, announced Friday by Google, is part of an emerging 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 tactics that further exploit the data people leave online amount to a bait-and-switch. 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.

Google said the launch of “shared endorsements” will help consumers make better choices. “We want to give you — and your friends and connections — the most useful information.

Recommendations from people you know can really help,” the company wrote in its announcement.

It added that users can opt out of the ads and that it will automatically exclude anyone under the age of 18.