How the new AdWords policy could impact social media competitions

Google will be making some sensible changes to their AdWords policy. The search engine will start being stricter with rules around the gathering of personal and financial information.

Google wants to avoid headlines like; “Scammers use AdWords to harvest personal data”. This makes sense; especially as security is seen as one of the biggest barriers to widespread cloud adoption from businesses and Google very much is betting on a cloudy future.

  1. Clear, accessible disclosure before visitors submit personal information
    Our existing policy requires you to clearly describe how any personal information you solicit will be used. Soon, we’ll require that your description must also be easily accessible before site visitors submit their details.
  2. Option to discontinue direct communications
    In the same description of how personal information will be used, you’ll also be required to describe how people can opt out of future emails, phone calls, or other direct communications.
  3. SSL when collecting payment and certain financial and personal information
    Many websites use what are known as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) connections to encrypt sensitive information that travels between the user's browser and the website's servers. To help ensure user safety, AdWords policy will require all advertisers to use SSL when collecting payments and certain financial and personal information (like bank account and social security numbers).

Let’s just park the SSL issue for now except to say that phrase “and certain financial and personal information” adds weight to the suggestion these will not be machine enforced rules. These will be rules that a suspicious site is weighed against. Google’s not defined what those ‘certain’ financial details are; the assumption has to be along the lines of payments and transactions though.

The first two points are more general and therefore have a wider impact. Just to summarise; soon you’ll be vulnerable to competitors, angry customers, competition losers or even Google themselves suggesting you should no longer be able to run a paid search campaign because you’re collecting data irresponsibly. It may not become common but it is always very unwise to ignore AdWords’ guidelines.

Google defines personal and financial information here. It includes full name and email addresses.

That’s not much. I put “social media competitions” in the title of this little ramble because pretty much every well run social media competition gathers up these days. In particular, I’m talking about the ones which you name and email yourself to enter and then tweet to boost your win chances. For example;

This means that competitions need to be thrown together with a little bit more forward thought, that’s all. In particular, entry screens will have a link to a page describing what the brand is intending on doing with the gathered email addresses.

In many cases brands are happy to forget the details from competitions completely. Sure, there are some brands who’ll run a competition to data harvest but many of the social media inspired competitions are designed to grab attention, build followers and Likes.

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