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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Google Provides Unintentional Peek at Classified Ad Service

Google Inc. has unintentionally provided a sneak peek at what appears to be a looming expansion into classified advertising -- a free service that might antagonize some of the Internet search engine's biggest customers, including online auctioneer eBay Inc.

Screen shots of the experimental service, dubbed "Google Base," appeared on several Web sites Tuesday shortly after the legions of people who dissect the online search engine leader's every move discovered a link to a page inviting people to list things like a used car for sale, a party planning service and current events.

Google confirmed the development of the service a few hours after taking down the link.

"We are testing new ways for content owners to easily send their content to Google," the Mountain View, California-based company said in a statement. "We're continually exploring new opportunities to expand our offerings, but we don't have anything to announce at this time."

By offering a forum that would enable people to sell goods and services without paying for the advertising, Google might hurt eBay -- a major buyer of the online ads that account for most of Google's profits.

EBay depends on the fees that it receives for helping to sell all kinds of products and services, including items that might be listed for free on Google Base. The San Jose, California-based company also owns a 25 percent stake in Craigslist, a popular site that offers free classified ads in more than 100 cities.

Google also has confirmed it's working on an online payment service, but CEO Eric Schmidt has said the service won't compete with eBay-owned PayPal.

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