Yahoo!: Aiming for mobile Internet leadership


More relevant search, targeted advertising and attention to privacy: this is how Yahoo! intends to become the leader in the growing mobile Internet services market. Geraldine Wilson, vice president of Yahoo! Europe’s Connected Life division, spoke to EURACTIV in an exclusive interview ahead of the FT Business of Mobile Conference.

Geraldine Wilson is vice president of the Connected Life Division at Yahoo! Europe. She will be among the speakers at the 
FT Business of Mobile Conferenceset to take place on 19-20 May in Brussels.

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.

Several analysts already see the future of the Internet as mobile Internet. How and when do you think the switchover will happen? 

We believe that by 2016, more users will access the internet from their mobile devices than the fixed PC. Currently there are approximately a billion PCs and three billion mobiles. It is easy to see why we think mobile is such a huge opportunity, particularly as in emerging markets, where people do not have PCs, mobile is the only way that they can access the mobile internet.

In Europe, next summer is considered to be a launch pad for new mobile technologies, such as mobile TV, due to the big sports events set to take place – the European Football Championships in Austria and Switzerland and the Olympic Games in China. Do you agree with these expectations?

We know that search on sports news and sports updates is one of the key things that people like to do on a mobile today. If these events get more people searching the Internet on the phone, this is a very good thing. If it gets people started, hopefully they will continue.

Yahoo! is already well placed in the race for Internet mobile services. oneSearch has been a success. Other services are in the pipeline. You are among the IT companies that have invested more in differentiating services provided on PCs from services for mobile computer users. Is this strategy proving successful?

Mobile is a key part of Yahoo!’s strategy. Our aim is to be number one in search and advertising. In January of 2007 we fundamentally changed the way consumers access and use Internet content and services on their mobile phone with the launch of Yahoo! oneSearch, a search service explicitly designed to serve the needs of mobile users. We believe it is the only way to succeed on mobile. Search is an entirely different experience on a PC rather than on the mobile phone. This approach has been hugely successful, and we have already signed 29 partnerships with operators for Yahoo! oneSearch, which gives us the potential to reach over 600 million users through subscriptions.

What are the main differences between a search on a mobile phone and a search on a computer?

When consumers search from a mobile phone they are looking for instant answers and the most relevant information for what matters to them at that very moment. Consumers are more forgiving of PC-based searches and can easily refine their query to receive more specific information. On mobile, if the user doesn’t find the information relevant, they will likely have a less positive user experience, and aren’t nearly as likely to try mobile search in the future. 

You put mobile advertising at the top of your agenda. Do you think that consumers will accept receiving advertisements on their mobile phones?

Mobile advertising is a category ready to take off, enabling marketers to reach millions of mobile users. What we think is that users are very positive towards this kind of advertising if they are relevant. It is very important we target people well. In many cases they will be also getting the content that they are consuming either at a cheaper price or even free because of the advertisement.

More relevant ads mean wider collection of personal data. Do you think this can be a problem?

We are very mindful of the privacy laws and very committed to ensuring we can operate with the deep trust of consumers in terms of privacy. Moreover, no personal data is passed on to advertisers. We just aggregate that data and in many cases we don’t even know personal data. And anyway, our users will always have the opportunity to opt-out.

Among the new services you will soon launch in Europe is oneConnect, which will allow users to aggregate personal information obtained in social networking websites and provide innovative location-sensing technology. What do you think could be the potential concerns for privacy? 

I think all location-based information will be opt-in. Users will have to be comfortable if they want to share this information. In terms of social networking, oneConnect is a very easy and useful starting point to pool your data together. It makes it easy for users to see updates and to access their social networks through a mobile. In all these cases the users have decided what information is public and what is private, we don’t change any of that.

After oneSearch there will be oneConnect and then also a new voice-enabling search service, already on the market in the US. When will they be offered to the EU national markets?

oneConnect will be launched progressively over the second half of the year. As for the voice search service, the language issues are very important. We will introduce in the coming months – first in Europe the UK version – and then we will work on the other four big European languages. We will be working to get those out over the rest of the year.

The EU Telecoms review launched by the Commission last November aims to reallocate radio spectrum. Internet high-speed connections may experience a surge if they can use radio frequencies. How important is this for Yahoo!?

As a company we do not expect and we have no aspirations to buy radio spectrum. It is not a business for Yahoo! But we welcome this initiative. Everything that can increase the use of the Internet through the phone is a good thing.

Not forgetting the hot issue of the moment, after the failed merger with Microsoft, is there any new potential alliance that might strengthen Yahoo!’s presence in the mobile Internet market?

I can only say that we are focused very much on our ambition to become the number one in search and advertising on mobiles and on launching new products and working with our partners. 

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