Internal Google Document Reveals Struggles Over Data, Privacy: WSJ

Google’s internal debates over privacy and how to monetize the mountains of data it has about its users — including whether to monetize it at all — are detailed today by the Wall Street Journal. The lengthy article examines a confidential, seven-page “vision statement” that made the rounds at Google as far back as 2008.

Google is the leader when it comes to making money from ads, and advertising accounts for 95%+ of the company’s revenues. But other companies are threatening Google’s dominance in certain niches. While Google long resisted very specific behavioral ad targeting, Facebook and others were opening up their user databases and letting advertisers target ads more specifically than ever before. Google was also late to the display advertising business, and had to buy Doubleclick to stake its claim in that market. The vision statement was compiled by Aitan Weinberg, a Senior Product Manager at Google who came from Doubleclick.

His memo, stamped “INTERNAL CONFIDENTIAL,” acknowledged the delicateness of the subject. Audience targeting is “of a sensitive nature,” it stated in the very first sentence, due to the possibility of “mis-understanding” among users.

The memo then went on to outline a sweeping vision in which Google could get other websites from around the Internet to share their data with it for the purpose of targeting ads.

The document also says Google could start selling ads across the Web based on the things it knew about people from their Gmail accounts, and also from their use of Google’s Checkout service, a PayPal rival.

The document — described as a “subset of a more complete business plan currently in-progress” — includes a disclaimer that many of the ideas in it have not been approved for development, and none would be approved “without strong consideration of privacy, legal and industry best practices in mind.”

It goes into some of the currently hot topics in online advertising, such as behavioral targeting and, more specifically, retargeting. (Google opened up “remarketing” to all AdWords advertisers earlier this year.) The document discusses a “surround search” idea that would target ads on the Google Content Network “within 15-60 minutes of a given search, whereby the timeliness of the ad would presumably increase its relevancy to the user.” There are even “wacky” ideas like allowing users to advertise to their social network.

In the document, Google also floats the idea of creating an advertising exchange in which its user data would be shared outside of the Google Content Network. It also discusses a data exchange network in which Google could build a platform to allow companies to share their own user data with other companies. The example in the document involves Marriott hypothetically choosing to share data with Hertz.

In addition to its article, the WSJ has posted scans of several excerpts from the document.

There’s more discussion on Techmeme.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Google: AdWords | Google: Business Issues | Google: Critics | Google: Legal | Legal: Privacy


About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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