Google Agonizes on Privacy as Advertising World Vaults Ahead – WSJ.com


By JESSICA E. VASCELLARO

A confidential, seven-page Google Inc. “vision statement” shows the information-age giant in a deep round of soul-searching over a basic question: How far should it go in profiting from its crown jewels—the vast trove of data it possesses about people’s activities?

Should it tap more of what it knows about Gmail users? Should it build a vast “trading platform” for buying and selling Web data? Should it let people pay to not see any ads at all?

These and other ideas big and small—the third one was listed under “wacky”—are discussed in the document, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and compiled in late 2008 by Aitan Weinberg, now a senior product manager for interest-based advertising. Along with interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees, the vision statement offers a candid, introspective look at Google’s fight to remain at the vanguard of the information economy.

Google is pushing into uncharted privacy territory for the company. Until recently, it refrained from aggressively cashing in on its own data about Internet users, fearing a backlash. But the rapid emergence of scrappy rivals who track people’s online activities and sell that data, along with Facebook Inc.’s growth, is forcing a shift.

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Privacy is dead, live with it.