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Why Google Exec. is 'Intrigued' by Facebook

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- At least one Google executive isn't afraid to say she likes Facebook.

Marissa Mayer, the search giant's vice president of search products and user experience, admitted in a keynote address that she has a bit of Facebook-envy.

Mayer said she's "intrigued" by Facebook's ability to collect information about the connections people make at the social networking site, such as how they met online. "This information is particularly useful; we should do that," said Mayer during her keynote discussion at the Search Engine Strategies conference here today.

There has been speculation that Google  would buy the fast-growing Facebook, which is widely believed to have been courted by Yahoo last year. Facebook has said it's not looking to be acquired in the midst of this year's mega-growth.

Mayer credited iGoogle, the company's personalized home page service, as well as Facebook, for offering open platforms that enable users to create their own applications. "I think the overall trend is toward openness. Both [Facebook and iGoogle] provide a great opportunity to create a deeper [connection] with users."

She also positioned Google's Gadgets and Facebook as a new form of advertising. "You can actually provide functionality and data that's relevant like sports scores, movies. Because it's personalized [information], it's a really compelling opportunity."

Conference co-chair Danny Sullivan asked Mayer about concerns that unflattering or overly-revealing images of people on Google's new Street View crossed into an invasion of their privacy.

Mayer said the intent of Street View is to help people find things faster. She gave a personal example of looking for a specific restaurant on a rainy day in traffic and being able to see via Street View that it had a yellow awning. As for privacy, Mayer said Google had "evolved" its policy and is now blurring the faces of people and license plates.

Google and other search sites have battled criticism by privacy groups who say they track and collect too much of user's personal information. Mayer noted that if a user is not logged in, they can use Google's service anonymously. "If you're logged in, there are additional privacy policies related to our data retention."

Mobile Apps And Google's Horizon

Mobile is widely-considered the next great application opportunity, a sentiment Mayer agreed with. She noted that although the summer months tend to show a dip in the traffic that Google tracks, it has seen a bump up this season with mobile users getting online, particularly with Apple's iPhone which includes integrated Google apps.

Mayer demonstrated a mobile search for a particular business by category, like pizza, which presented a Google map highlighting all the pizza locations in a particular area. The image can also be pinched larger or smaller using the iPhone's touch screen interface.

Marissa Meyer
Marissa Mayer at SES San Jose
Photo: Silver Smith, Copyright 2007

As for whether Google has its own mobile phone in the works or an operating system designed for mobile phone providers, Mayer didn't answer the question. "The iPhone has done a good job of showing what can happen when you have a full OS," she said. "We're eager to partner with people like Apple and get our apps preloaded." She noted that many consumers already download some Google apps like GMail to their mobile devices.