Google Still Wins in FCC 700-megahertz Auction: They’ve Got Your Numbers Now

A Monthlong Magnification of Google: the Company, the Technologies, and the Extracurricular Activities

It didn’t take the press or the public too long to figure out that Google was a little out of their element when they participated in the Federal Communications Commission Auction of 700-megahertz radio frequencies earlier this year.

Up against players like AT&T, with annual revenue close to $120 billion, and Verizon, with annual revenue just over $90 billion; Google’s seemed out of their league with revenue under $17 billion. (1)

But, what Google did manage to do by throwing around the weight they do have was get policies put in place to allow for some “open networks,” which will offer consumers the ability to use a wider variety of devices and more applications on devices using these open networks. (2)

The part about more applications comes in very handy for Google, and when you look at a 2006 Google patent application, (3) it seems possible that Google accomplished exactly what they set out to do at the FCC auction.

In March of 2006, Google filed an application for a patent titled, “Targeting and/or scoring advertisements using information derived from called telephone numbers or the called telephone numbers themselves.” The application describes in detail a method for Google to know about each and every call you make from your cell-phone or handheld device, and know about who and where you are calling. With the intention of serving targeted ads to consumers, Google will be gathering information about every call you make, including:

  • Phone numbers you call
  • The name (“…business name, an organization name, a person’s surname, or a person’s given name) of the called party.”
  • “Directory information” – the type of number (business or individual), type of business, location, etc.
  • “Duration of a call from which the call-derived information was determined.”
  • “Cost of a call from which the call-derived information was determined.”
  • “Frequency of calls to the same number.”
  • “Frequency of calls to a type of organization.”
  • Frequency of calls to a type of business.”
  • “Number of calls to a type of person,[…] business [or] organization.”
  • Time lapsed since the number was last called.(4)

Without open networks (like Google pushed for in the recent FCC auction of 700-megahertz radio frequencies), Google could be restricted from collecting data if carriers who owned the network restricted their customers from using Google’s applications. This could have interfered with Google’s patent-pending method of collecting detailed call data. With open networks, it’s possible that Google will be able to collect from any consumer, regardless of the network carrier—just as long as they will agree to use a free Google application. So far, Google hasn’t had much problem attracting users for their free applications.

Rick Whitt, Google’s Telecom and Media Counsel said “our objective is to bring the ethos of the Internet to the wireless world . . . gathering the world’s information, making it universally accessible and easy to use.” (5) Though Mr. Whitt is certainly referring to making the internet universally accessible to users, it seems equally fitting that he would be referring to making the world’s call histories, and information that can be derived from them, universally accessible to Google.

1. AT&T Investor Briefing, Jan. 24, 2008; Verizon Communications Investor Quarterly 4Q 2006; Google Investor Relations, Financial Tables, 2007.

2. Cecilia Kang, AT& T, Verizon Plan Wireless Future, Washington Post, April 5, 2008.

3. U.S. Patent Application No. 11/393,384, Targeting and/or scoring advertisements using information derived from called telephone numbers or the called telephone numbers themselves (filed Mar 30, 2006).

4. U.S. Patent Application No. 11/393,384.

5. Cecilia Kang, AT& T, Verizon Plan Wireless Future, Washington Post, April 5, 2008.