Why Google Really Wants You to Use Google+ This Year

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Google has always made it all too easy to join its not so beloved social network, but now it's forcing users to log in with Google+ in order to get better (and more lucrative) data for advertisers. For example, people who post restaurant reviews on Zagat, which Google bought in 2011, must now post them via their Google+ accounts. And you can't post on YouTube or use Gmail without a Google+ account anymore. Of course, Google+ has always been shamelessly integrated into the company's main product by way of social search, but at least you used to be able to use all other things Google without having your other other social network shoved in your face. Now a directive from CEO Larry Page has Google+ connected up with pretty much everything, sources tell The Wall Street Journal's Amir Efrati, and you can expect even more integration coming soon. "Google+ is Google," says Vice President Bradley Horowitz. "The entry points to Google+ are many, and the integrations are more every day."

It doesn't sound like we're going to have a choice. Google needs us. While Google+ has a small and loyal following, a lot of its reported growth comes from these enforced measures. At last count, the network had 500 million "users," many of whom we know did not sign up willingly. That's still half of Facebook's user base, and make no doubt: this is all about competing with Facebook, sources tell Efrati. Nobody joins Facebook, the top in 177 countries, by accident, but only 135 million of Google+'s 500 million users are "active in the stream," as Google's Vic Gundotra recently put it — as in, people who use Google+ because they want to interact with Google in a social way. The rest, of course, are mostly people who made an account because Gmail made them, never to visit the secondary social network again. 

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But the user data ultimately matters for Google's increasingly important plan to leverage Google+ growth for advertising — if only a little. While Facebook has capitalized on what we share, with several different advertising strategies like Sponsored Stories, the who matters a lot as well. And without Facebook numbers, Google is drawing in marketers not so much with your stuff and your friends as with "the real you" — Google has a (sort-of) real-name policy that ensures we register our authentic selves. Of course, activity sweetens the deal, too, which explains why the company has pushed the linking-up of Google+ to its share-happy products like reviews and YouTube.

This aggressive new strategy even has Google's own people worried. One suggestion by Page to take it even further, by requiring users to sign up for Google+ just to read reviews, got shut down because other executives feared it would "irritate" search users. But more than annoying us, this overt kind of integration might be setting up Google for another anti-trust investigation, as analyst Greg Sterling suggested on Twitter:

The Google+ push is, in the end, forcing users to do something in order to cull our personal information for advertising data. That sure sounds like enough to raise eyebrows at the FTC, which is already investigating Google in an antitrust inquire set to begin this month.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.