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Quova upgrade pins down AOL users

The company announces an upgrade to its Internet-mapping technology that includes long hidden data on America Online subscribers.

Quova on Wednesday announced an upgrade to its Internet-mapping technology that includes long hidden data on America Online subscribers.

The Redwood City, Calif.-based company is releasing GeoPoint 4.0, software that identifies the geographic location of Web site visitors down to the country, state and city level. The technology maps IP (Internet Protocol) addresses--which are used to route signals over the Web to an individual's computer--with new depth, according to the company.

"Clearly, in terms of digital content distribution, the technology becomes very important to assigning and getting the right kinds of information to the proper and authenticated users--for example, music distribution," said Mike McGuire, research director at GartnerG2, a division of research firm Gartner.

The GeoPoint product now traces AOL's roughly 33 million subscribers by their country of origin--data that helps fill in a massive piece missing from Internet-mapping technology and long considered its weak spot. The technology can now tell, for example, if an AOL user is from the United States or France, rather than merely tracing the IP address to AOL's corporate base in Virginia.

The software also can identify Web visitors who use privacy software or who originate from corporate proxies, the company said.

Geo-tracking technology is growing in importance for several industries. Marketers and Web publishers use the software to send custom messages or content based on a visitor's location. Companies such as credit card issuers use such software to detect fraud, flagging applicants attempting to conceal their location, for example.

Other broadening interest comes from companies that need to manage distribution of their content online. Gaming operators, for example, are adopting such technology to comply with laws restricting trade practices by international and state borders.

Such border control touched Yahoo last year when a French court ruled that the Web portal must block access of Nazi paraphernalia to French citizens. In November, Yahoo obtained a ruling in a U.S. court saying it did not have to comply with the French court decision.

But the technology's inability to trace the location of AOL subscribers and those using filters that conceal IP addresses has been considered its Achilles' heel. As a result, Quova and competitive services have been diligently racing to fill in the gaps. With country data on AOL subscribers, Quova says the software is now about 98 percent accurate.

"We're combining the global data collection network, automated technology and expert human analysis to provide more breadth of information about IP addresses like anonymizing proxies, corporate proxies and AOL country information," said Tom Miltonberger, Quova's senior vice president of products.

However, Quova rival Digital Envoy says its Internet-mapping technology, NetActuity, already has such ability. The company inked a partnership with AOL last August to become its provider of geo-tracking technology. At that time, AOL also became one of the company's biggest investors.

For its part, Quova has been busy signing deals with other major customers. Late last year, Quova signed an agreement with Visa International to explore ways for the credit card company to use the tracking technology to benefit Visa's banks and merchants. The company also claims Clear Commerce among its roughly 48 customers. Founded in January 2000, the company is backed by VeriSign, IDG Ventures, Nexus Group and Fidelity Ventures, among others.

Quova's new GeoPoint identifies visitors using various proxies, or technology that veils the location of the site visitor. It does not reveal the location of Web visitors using privacy software to veil their whereabouts, but it can inform a client, on the fly, that the visitor is using such software. A client then can block the viewer based on this information.

The technology performs the same way for other corporate proxies or "Internet accelerators," caching services that help improve the performance of Web pages by downloading one version of the page for a group of users.

The company is also promoting a new feature in GeoPoint that taps intelligence from its customers, called "closed loop methodology."

"We can take data from our customers about their Web traffic and factor that into our service. Over time it improves the accuracy," Miltonberger said.