Reviewing Bing from Back to Front

NEWS ANALYSIS: Your search for the best search program should start with privacy.

"What about that Bing program from Microsoft?" is the question of the week from people I speak with both in person and virtually. They want to know: Is the interface easier (than one line?), are the results better, and is Google really running as scared as The New York Post claims?

In answer to those questions I'd say the interface is about the same; the results are better for local, shopping and video; and Google should be more concerned about not having a full quiver of social net(Twitter) search tools than about Microsoft's latest search competitor.

But, with any new search tool, the real question concerns privacy. We Web searchers-which is just about everybody these days-put a lot of faith in the big tech companies with which we do our search business. I always find it a bit strange that we can be quick to demand new tougher legislation regarding digital security of our financial records, but we leave the administration of our search records pretty much to faith that big tech execs will do the right thing.

Self-promotion ahead: I wrote a novel once-Red's Query, available on Amazon-about what could happen if search histories were manipulated, and I still think it is a legitimate issue. I am in the "Trust but verify" category with vendors taking care of our search results. What follows is my five-question quiz about Bing. Score 20 points for each correct answer.

Q. Does Bing have a privacy policy?

A. Yes, you can read it here.

Q. How long does Bing store your search information?

A. Eighteen months. "We take additional steps to protect the privacy of stored search information by removing the entirety of the IP address, cookies and other cross session identifiers, after 18 months."

Q. Does Bing store your search identification (cookies, mostly) and your identity in the same place?

A. No. "We store our Search service search terms (and the cookie IDs associated with search terms) separately from any account information that directly identifies the user, such as name, e-mail address, or phone numbers. Further, we have built-in technological and procedural safeguards designed to prevent the unauthorized correlation of this data."

Q. What about cashback? That is new in Bing. How is your search information handled in Bing cashback?

A. This is a little more complicated. There is a closed loop between you, Bing, a vendor and sales accounting. This is one area that needs some more clarification about rights, responsibilities and who owns the sales data. "When you sign up for Bing cashback, we will request certain registration information, including your email address, your mailing address, and other personal information, to create a Bing cashback account. We use this information to make sure that the cashback you earn on your purchases is correctly added to your cashback account. When you make a purchase, the store will provide us details about your purchase, and we will email you an accounting of your cashback savings. In the future, we might also use your purchase information to help personalize your experience, which might include displaying customized advertising and content. You can revise your account information by accessing your cashback account."

Q. Is Bing better or worse than Google in privacy attributes?

A. This is not as easy to answer as it might seem. The policies are somewhat similar (Google makes IP addresses anonymous after nine months and cookies after 18 months), and you can read all about Google privacy policies for its many services at its privacy center. In the end, as I said at the beginning, you are mostly relying on a policy and faith that the policy will be implemented without error by the vendor.

I'm still in the "trust but verify" camp.

And now for something completely different. Want to see my comments on the emerging smarter technologies you should be following in 2009? Or how about some tech executives that I think are making waves? Or how smarter innovative ideas are being developed from common services? See my blog entries at