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Facebook obsession guides Google CEO’s 1st year on job
Social network » In its nine months, Google Plus pulls in more than 100M users.

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Although Google is more prosperous than ever, its stock price hasn’t kept pace with the rest of the technology sector. Some investors have been turned off by Google’s rising expenses under Page. Others were alarmed by a drop in the prices paid for Google’s search-driven ads late last year. The company’s stock price has climbed by 9 percent since Page became CEO, but that trailed a 12 percent gain in the technology-laden Nasdaq composite index. The broader S&P 500 index, which includes Google, has increased by 6 percent over the same period.

Some of Google’s tactics to fend off Facebook have been interpreted as signs that Google is turning into a ruthless company willing to go to any length to protect its core business.

At a glance

Google versus Facebook

Annual revenue » Google, $38 billion; Facebook, $3.7 billion.

Advertising revenue » Google, $36.5 billion; Facebook, $3.2 billion.

Annual net income » Google, $9.7 billion; Facebook, $668 million.

Social networking users » Facebook, 845 million; Google, more than 100 million.

Employees » Google, 32,500; Facebook, 3,200.

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That’s something Page and co-founder Sergey Brin vowed would never happen when Google filed its plans to go public in 2004. In a letter to investors, Page expounded on the reasons Google adopted "Don’t Be Evil" as one its guiding principles. "We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served ... by a company that does good things for the world even if we forego some short-term gains," Page wrote.

The sincerity of those commitments is being questioned as Google digs deeper for personal data.

A recent change to Google’s privacy policy has triggered the loudest outcry. About a month ago, Google unified 60 different privacy policies so it could stitch together all the personal information it gathers while users are logged into most of its services. Google explained the change as a simpler approach that would benefit its users, but the company also acknowledged that it would let it draw a more meaningful profile for advertisers looking to connect with prospective customers.

Another privacy backlash grew out of research a Stanford graduate student published in February. It showed that the company had been bypassing the security settings in Apple’s Safari browser for iPhones and iPads to track Web surfers’ online activities. Google called the intrusion an inadvertent offshoot of an effort to enable Safari users to press Google Plus’s version of Facebook’s "Like" button. Google disabled the tracking after it was revealed.

Google also tweaked its search results in January to give users the option to highlight results from Google Plus. Among other things, the search engine began to include suggestions on people to follow on Google Plus while excluding recommendations for Facebook and Twitter’s messaging service, both of which are used more widely than Google Plus. Google says its search engine can’t pull enough information from Facebook and Twitter to provide the same recommendations as it does for Google Plus.

Critics, though, scoff at that explanation and point to the bias as another example of how Google is abusing its dominance of Internet search to steer more traffic toward its own services. Those complaints are a central part of the regulatory investigations under way in the U.S. and Europe.

Both Auletta and Levy view what’s been happening at Google as part of the inevitable maturation of the company and Page, who turned 39 last week.

"That idealistic flame still burns in Google," Auletta said. "But what happens, as time goes on, and you are no longer a young company, you have to make the compromises of adulthood...Facebook eventually is going to have to face a lot of the same questions."

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