Google Inc., known for its online search engine, is the fastest-growing company in the United States. Its name has become a verb, and its stock trades at more than $400 a share.
Google is quickly moving well beyond search.
Its Earth satellite mapping provides 3-D digital models of the entire world. After Hurricane Katrina, emergency responders used it to orient themselves for rescues.
The company offers the e-mail service Gmail and Google Video, in which users can purchase television shows and homemade movies.
Through all of this, Google is collecting a massive database of personal information.
The Bush administration wants to know how often computer users search for pornography on the Web -- specifically, how many times Google users look for the sites. It says it needs the data to futher its efforts to keep pornography out of the hands of children.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin -- the 30-something multibillionaires who founded Google -- resisted the request today, saying it was not necessary and raised serious privacy concerns.
"Our company relies on having the trust of our users and using that information for that benefit," said Page. "That's a very strong motivation for us. We're committed to that. If you start to mandate how products are designed, I think that's a really bad path to follow. I think instead we should have laws that protect the privacy of data, for example, from government requests and other kinds of requests."
The Child Online Protection Act, which carries criminal penalties for online pornographers, was passed in 1998. But the Supreme Court stopped it from being enforced and ordered a lower court to determine whether filtering software could protect kids from the Web sites without violating adult free speech.
According to the Justice Department, America Online, Yahoo and MSN have all handed over their search data. But Google is holding out.
"I think people are both fascinated and terrified, frankly," said John Battelle, author of "The Search."
"This wonderful, cuddly California startup with this warm and friendly 'Don't be evil' motto -- we realize that if Google lives up to the potential that we've created for it, that might be a company that is extraordinarily powerful."
About the company's motto, Page said, "The idea is just thinking about what we're doing all the time and make sure that we're doing good basically."
Google's Corporate Culture
Brin and Page share an office space not much bigger than a walk-in closet. The 3,000 employees who work at company headquarters appear very happy.
About 1,000 have become millionaires, and sometimes it's hard to tell when they are working.
"I love working at Google," Camille Hart said. "It's the next best thing to not working at all."
"I feel like this is a little part of home for me," Corin Anderson said.
The campus, as they call it, has everything workers need or could ever want -- free massages, free use of a gym, free snacks, free laundry service and a barber shop.
"We try to provide a really comfortable environment here, and also we make it playful to create creativity," said Brin. "We think we get better products out of it by letting our people be more creative."
Doug Banks, a Google software engineer, even enjoys a game of volleyball during work.
"Get to work at 9:30, see if anyone wants to play volleyball, come out here at 10:30 -- in between do some work," he said.
Google also offers three square meals a day -- for free.
"Breakfast, lunch and dinner every day," said Google chef Robert Morgan. "It seems like the better we feed them, the more creative they are."