Online auction and merchandising giant Amazon.com is entering the search fray with the launch of A9.com, a search engine that presents
search results with adjacent columns of related personal and product information.
While Amazon.com has always had a search engine at the core of its books and merchandise site, its new A9.com is a full-bodied, Web-roaming search engine that competes with sites such as Google and Yahoo! to provide Web-wide search capabilities.
The beta version of A9, which went live this week, provides search results presented in a three-column screen format. The first column contains the search results, which are generated by Google technology. The second is a listing of Amazon products directly related to the search results. The third column provides access to the user's comprehensive search history.
A9 is a wholly owned and separately branded subsidiary of Amazon.com. It was formed to develop e-commerce search technology for Amazon.com and other Web sites, according to the company.
A9 is designed to gather and cross-reference user demographic data in a way that will potentially allow the company to offer precise consumer targeting to future advertisers. In order to use the search engine's full features, users must register. That data is then referenced against the interest areas detailed in their retained personal search histories, the history of all their previous activities within the main Amazon.com sites, as well as with other cookie-based data. A visitor doesn't have to register to use the search function, but the more they tell A9 about themselves, the more personalized their future searches will be.
One issue raised by the search engine's combination and retention of personal data and online behavioral data is privacy.
"This whole issue of privacy on the Internet is an undeveloped area of the law," said David A. Rammelt, an attorney with Kelley Drye & Warren who handles search and Internet cases. "There's no law that says you cannot collect information about people."
Ms. Diboll said discussing how advertisers would apply the technology is "highly speculative." No advertisers have been signed up.
Richard Hagerty, CEO of Impaqt, a search engine marketing consulting firm in Pittsburgh, said Amazon has been providing personalized recommendations based on past behavior for a long time. "People don't like to give up their information, but they trust Amazon," he said.