Google Agonizes on Privacy as Ad World Vaults Ahead

A confidential, seven-page Google Inc. (GOOG) “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.

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