Schmidt: Google to Seek Users' Personal Info

Google may begin to require users to register or otherwise provide personal information to use certain of its applications. An AP report attributed that idea to comments made by Google CEO Eric Schmidt during a four-hour meeting for Wall Street analysts at Google's Mountain View, CA headquarters. The rationale is that it would enable Google to offer better or more improved search/services.

AOL has its ISP customers' billing information and Yahoo! has long had registration information from its users. AOL and Yahoo! both argue this data enables them to locate users and thus, potentially, deliver a better local experience. Putting aside the question of accuracy€"when I'm asked to register to view newspaper articles I typically input wildly inaccurate information€"users' addresses and other personal information are helpful in serving up local information. (Personalizing search off this information is more elusive.)

IYPs and the local products of Yahoo! and Google don't have to guess about location information because it's a required field. MSN has added a "near me" button to obtain location information€"with a default setting and a pull-down menu of other location options.

Right now Google relies on IP targeting to deliver geographically relevant ads to users in the absence of a place name or other geographic keyword modifier on Google.com. This is an imperfect system (AOL is always cited; AOL users appear to be in Virginia). Knowing a user's location via registration (assuming it's accurate) would allow Google to "disambiguate" queries that were implicitly local searches (e.g., "Chinese restaurant," "auto repair," "dentist") and potentially serve a great many more geotargeted ads.

The real/local world is where most consumer transactions take place (e-commerce is still about 2% of overall U.S. retail). And the Internet is growing in its influence over those offline transactions. Combine that with the fact that geotargeted ads deliver higher CTRs (because they're more targeted) and it becomes clear that there's a considerable amount of potential revenue at stake in delivering more locally targeted ads.

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