Google's Larry Page Offers Company Update, Defends Privacy Decisions

Google CEO Larry Page, in a blog post, described Google’s key focus for 2012: creating a better, more intuitive experience. Which means getting to know you better.

Google CEO Larry Page posted a €œ2012 Update€ on the company€™s Investor Relations page, talking up the decisions he€™s made over the last year, what Google is and isn€™t doing, and the excitement that he says underscores the work Googlers do. Google, he suggested, is a big company with the soul of a startup.

€œSince becoming CEO again,€ Page wrote, €œI€™ve pushed hard to increase our velocity, improve our execution, and focus on the big bets that will make a difference in the world.€

Making a difference in the world is a major driver for Page, and making a simpler, more intuitive, more naturally integrated experience is a major goal for Google. Accomplishing both of these increasingly requires €œunderstanding identity and relationships,€ which is an area that€™s responsible for both Google€™s growing success and the increasing discomfort some feel about it.

€œImagine how much better search would be if we added €¦ you,€ wrote Page. €œSay you€™ve been studying computer science for awhile like me, then the information you need won€™t be that helpful to a relative novice and vice versa. If you€™re searching for a particular person, you want the results for that person€”not everyone else with the same name. These are hard problems to solve without knowing your identity, your interests, or the people you care about.€

Privacy€”or the adding of €œyou€ to such searches€”is a growing area of contention. U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., in a speech to the American Bar Association last week, described Google and Facebook as essentially large advertising companies that disregard users€™ privacy.

€œGoogle and Facebook are, essentially, tremendously innovative and profitable advertising companies. Google, for instance, took in $37.9 billion in revenue last year€”$36.5 billion of which was in advertising. These companies€™ profitability depends in large part on their ability to target ads to you, which in turn depends in large part on what they know about you,€ Franken said in his speech, according to the Search Engine Journal.

He later added, €œAccumulating data about you isn€™t just a strange hobby for these corporations. It€™s their whole business model. And you are not their client. You are their product.€

In an April 2 letter to the assistant secretary of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration regarding the Multistakeholder Process to Develop Consumer Data Privacy Codes of Conduct, Franken described steps he believes should be taken to protect consumers€™ fundamental right to privacy.

€œ[Privacy] has never been more important than it is today,€ Franken wrote. He continued:

€œThe Internet is an incredible creation and more incredibly still, many of the best and most innovative sites and services on the Web are available to users free of charge. Unfortunately, our privacy laws have not kept up with these changes and consumers are frequently and unknowingly paying for those innovations with their personal information and, inevitably, their privacy.€

Page addressed the privacy issue lightly, writing that Google strives to be a €œresponsible steward€ of the information€”in emails and documents, for example€”that users store in its systems.

€œThe recent changes we made to our privacy policies generated a lot of interest. But they will enable us to create a much better, more intuitive experience across Google€”our key focus for the year,€ wrote Page, followed by a sentiment that speaks to the company€™s mantra.

€œWe have always believed,€ wrote Page, €œthat it€™s possible to make money without being evil.€