Google+ Profile Photos Can Get Employers Into Trouble
Correction: We have updated this article to reflect the fact that Google+ users whose profile pictures appear in search results have given their permission. It is an opt-in feature of the service. We apologize for the error and any confusion this may have caused.
Google+ is raising questions about how personal and professional information can be combined in potentially embarrassing ways for companies.
For example, if you've written an article or blog post for a company and you have a Google+ profile, you can opt in to a feature that allows Google to display your profile picture next to search results of your story or post. Experts warn that Google+ users should be cautious about enabling this feature.
"Blending personal data with professional data can be troubling," said John Fairley, director of Web services and social media for Walker Sands Communications, a marketing firm. "Your Google+ profile picture of you in Halloween costume could be shown next to a company blog post in Google search results."
However, in order for the image to be eligible to appear as a thumbnail in search results, it has to be a headshot image, which may limit the room for embarrassment.
Personal activities promoted through social media could still have an impact on the reputation of a publicly traded company, Fairley added. Even if a user left an employer, cached results would still show the user's Google+ image next to a company’s name.
"Images can show up without someone explicitly looking for information about a company, so it can cause a lot of problems for the company and the Google+ user if they aren't careful," Fairley said.
There are various appealing reasons, however, that a writer may want to link up their articles to Google+. For example, a writer could establish a brand presence on a search results page. In addition, people are also more likely to click on a link that has a picture next to it, so the inclusion of a Google+ profile picture could help search engine optimization results.
A Google spokesperson noted that the feature is also of interest to Web surfers in general who may be curious to learn more about the authors of the posts they read.
"People discovering content on the Web often want to learn more about its author, see other content by that author and even interact with them," a Google spokesperson told TechNewsDaily. "We're now making this possible."
To identify the author of a blog or article, Google checks for a connection between a web page (such as an article) and a Google Profile. Users need to link that web page to their Google+ profile. To do this, users must include an html code snippet that contains their unique Google+ profile ID in their content and the rel=author parameter.
The html code can be included in the author byline, or at the top or bottom of the article, and the anchor text must start or end with a + character. Users then need to update their Google Profile with links to the sites to which they contribute. Google provides more information about how to do this on its support page.
Social media expert Joshua Kubicki, senior director of corporate and legal practices at LexisNexis Applied Discovery, told us that Google+ users can avoid potential embarrassment to themselves and their company by not opting in to the feature.
"People just have to be careful about what they could be getting themselves into if they do decide to connect their Google+ page with their company sites," Kubicki said.