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    Wall Street Journal: Google Agonizes on Privacy as Ad World Vaults Ahead

    The Wall Street Journal continues its in-depth report, “What They Know,” about the state of surveillance in the United States and how these surveillance programs affect individual privacy. In the latest installment, the Journal reports on privacy at Internet services company Google (besides search, there’s Gmail, Google Voice, Google Maps, Google Docs and more).

    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. […]

    A person familiar with the matter called the vision statement a “brainstorming document” and said it wasn’t presented to senior executives. Some of its ideas are “complete non-starters,” this person said. Efforts to reach Mr. Weinberg weren’t successful.

    Still, several have been implemented. Among them: Last year, Google for the first time started collecting a new type of data about the websites people visit, and using it to track and show them ads across the Internet. […]

    Google is overwhelmingly important to online privacy. Roughly 75% of global Internet users, or 943.8 million people, used its services in June, more than any other Web company, according to comScore. […]

    Selling ads is Google’s big money-maker, but the online-ad business is broadening away from Google’s sweet spot, selling ads tied to the search-engine terms people use. Instead, advertisers want to target people based on more specific personal information such as hobbies, income, illnesses or circles of friends.

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