Google’s Wireless Advertising Plans

The price of a free citywide wireless network planned for San Francisco may be increased advertising for users.

A patent application filed recently by Google details
a method of pushing highly targeted advertising to users of wireless
hotspots, and sharing the ad revenue with the wireless service provider.

On Wednesday a San Francisco city commission approved a bid by Google and
Internet service provider EarthLink to provide free wireless access
throughout the city. The Department of Telecommunications and Information
Services will now begin contract negotiations with EarthLink and Google.

What makes the Google patent potentially attractive to service providers
is the search giant’s ability to serve up personalized ads. According to the
patent, the advertising a wireless user would see is based on the
“geographical location of the WAP, an operation of an entity providing the
WAP, selected by the entity providing the WAP, and a profile of the WAP.”

In other words, such a system would allow, for example, a bookstore in
New York city to push ads for newly published novels that appeal to their
local customers, or perhaps even ads that suit the shoppers buying habits as
gleaned from his or her customer loyalty card profile.

Providers of wireless hotspots could also sell advertising for stores in
a specific vicinity, allowing retailers who run businesses not conducive to
wireless use to market themelves.

Technically the process works like this: The wireless access point
directs all traffic to Google through a virtual private network. Google’s
servers process the information and insert the correct ads into the
datastream that is sent to the end user.

The advertising could be displayed on browser’s toolbars, on separate
interstitial pages, or as part of the content of a Web page.

The patent states that a Web browser’s appearance could also be altered
to display logos or other brand information associated with the wireless
access provider. It also notes that customers would be asked to agree to
receive the ads in exchange for free wireless access.

According to the patent, which was filed in 2004 and published by the
U.S. Patent Office in mid-March, the advertising can be refreshed and
changed even when the user is not moving from Web page to Web page.

But Todd Kort, an analyst at Gartner, doesn’t expect to see ads sprawled
all over users’ screens. He thinks the Google ad display interface will
resemble Google.com, with advertising tucked into a sidebar. Kort also
believes that the ads will be targeted sufficiently to make them
unobtrusive.

“As long as there is that linkage with the kinds of searches people are
doing, it will be tolerable,” Kort said. “I’m no more anxious to see this
stuff happen than you are, but it’s probably going to happen, and we’ll have
to deal with it.”

He added, “They know that people aren’t clamoring for this so they better
not make it too intrusive or they’re going to get complaints. People might
even stop using some devices if it becomes a painful experience.”

Greg Sterling, principal analyst with Sterling Market Intelligence in
Oakland, Calif., echoed Kort’s thoughts.

“There’s considerable evidence that users are either ambivalent about
‘mobile advertising’ or don’t want it at all,” Sterling said. “Companies are
going to need to be cautious and much more thoughtful about mobile marketing
than its online counterpart. Users are going to be much less tolerant of
advertising on mobile devices that isn’t opt-in or highly targeted to their
interests.”

Access to wireless hotspot service is sometimes offered free by
businesses hoping to woo customers; hotels, for example, have been in the forefront
of offering free wireless access to users. Other providers charge for the
service, either by the hour, day or via a subscription plan.

The stated goal of Google’s patent is to allow businesses to offer free
wireless connectivity to consumers while still recouping some of the cost of
providing said service.

Will the patent be put to use in San Francisco? Google isn’t saying.

“At this point we aren’t sure how we’ll monetize this service,” said
Google spokeswoman Megan Quinn.

“Like many companies, we file patent apps on a variety of ideas that our
employees come up with. Some of those ideas later mature into real products
or services. Some don’t. Prospective product announcements should not be
inferred from patent applications.”

“However, like Web search, our goal is to create services that satisfy
the information needs of users while also creating new markets for
advertisers and local businesses.”

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