Thursday, February 03, 2011

Shane Greenstein: Bing "crosses a line."

Shane Greenstein of Kellogg School of Management asks [hat tip to Mark Thoma]:

... why does Bing’s imitation of Google’s search results seem to cross some sort of ethical line? Why does Microsoft’s conduct leave me shaking my head, wondering why Bing’s management did not put its nerdy foot down and just say “That is shameful. Let’s not go there.”?

Here's the first part of his answer:

There is nothing wrong with one retailer walking through a rival’s shop and getting ideas for what to do. There is renothing wrong with a designer of a piece of electronic equipment buying a rival’s product and studying it in order to get new ideas for a better design.

In the modern Internet, however, there is no longer any privacy for users. Providers want to know as much as they can, and generally the rich suppliers can learn quite a lot about user conduct and preferences.

It also means that rivals can learn a great deal about how users conduct their business, even when they are at a rival’s site. It is as if one retailer had a camera in a rival’s store, or one designer could learn the names of the buyer’s of their rival’s products, and interview them right away.

In the spat between Google and Bing, it boils down to this:

the transaction between supplier and user is between supplier and user, and nobody else should be able to observe it without permission of both supplier and user. The user alone does not have the right or ability to invite another party to observe all aspects of the transaction.

That is what bothers me about Bing’s behavior. [...]