Shouting Match at Google Over Stalkery Ads

Google's co-founders ended up in a shouting match in front of subordinates during internal discussions over aggressive ad targeting, according to the Wall Street Journal. The pro-targeting side prevailed, and Google is now edging toward Facebook-level privacy standards. Ack.

Google has overcome long-held reservations about tracking users to push into "uncharted privacy territory for the company," the said the Journal's Jessica Vascellaro. In March 2009, Google rolled out a system that watches what websites you visit, via ads sold by its DoubleClick display ad subsidiary, and then distills from that information your personal interests and uses the data to target ads at you. The categories are fairly broad — you can see yours here — but co-founder Sergey Brin apparently found the precedent disturbing:

Tensions erupted during a meeting with about a dozen executives at Google's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters about 18 months ago when [co-founders Larry] Page and Brin shouted at each other over how aggressively Google should move into targeting, according to a person who had knowledge of the meeting. "It was awkward," this person said. "It was like watching your parents fight."

Mr. Brin was more reluctant than Mr. Page, this person said. Eventually, he acquiesced and plans for Google to sell ads targeted to people's interests went ahead.

That account should further cement Brin's reputation as the conscience of the company; it was Brin, remember, who pushed hard to stand up to China's authoritarian regime.

But the co-founder did give in, and Google now uses data from search queries, YouTube views and even Gmail to target ads. Page is ominously quoted telling the Journal the danger from its monster cache of user data is "hypothetical." But as one memo circulated by a senior Google product manager and obtained by Vascellaro showed, interest in aggressively leveraging user data within Google is very much concrete.

Below, the "wacky" ideas section of the memo, which discusses charging users to opt out of invasive, stalkery ads (click to enlarge):

Shouting Match at Google Over Stalkery Ads