It was just last week that the Wall Street Journal reported Microsoft's decision to limit private browsing in IE8 as part of its ongoing series on online privacy, and today the focus is on Google, which is said be "agonizing" over the balance between user privacy and advertising opportunities. It's a long piece that you should read in full, but essentially the WSJ claims that Larry Page and Sergey Brin have gone from strictly forbidding any efforts to track users online to a more subtle interpretation of their famous "don't be evil" motto which allows them to leverage user data and sell finely targeted ads without "exploiting customers." According to the WSJ, the change in attitude came with the rise of upstart ad firms that lacked Google's scruples and the search giant's purchase of DoubleClick, which led to Google's first use of cookies. What's more, once at Google, former DoubleClick exec Aitan Weinberg produced a seven-page "vision document" that outlined several strategies to profit from user data, ranging from building a "trading platform" for user data to allowing users to pay directly and get rid of ads all together. (Google says the document was for "brainstorming" and that some of the proposals are "complete non-starters.")

The WSJ also says Google's working hard on that rumored social networking service to go head-to-head with Facebook, complete with a "like" button it can put across the web to build an even better profile of your likes and dislikes, and that the company is considering mixing user data from across services like Gmail and Google Checkout to make those profiles even deeper, all while trying to balance privacy, security, and legal interests. This balance appears to be causing significant tension between everyone at Google, Larry and Sergey included: the WSJ says the two founders have had shouting matches over things like selling "interest-based" ads, and that Sergey has been more reluctant than Larry to take advantage of user data. Like we said, it's a good read, so hit the source link and get to it.

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WSJ: Google 'agonizing' over user privacy, 'vision document' suggests selling data