Microsoft, Facebook in Search Talks, Report Says

Microsoft and Facebook are discussing a possible agreement to use Facebook data to improve Bing, according to a report from AllThingsD.

Microsoft and Facebook are negotiating to increase their ties in search, according to anonymous sources speaking to AllThingsD. That strengthened relationship could include feeding data from Facebook's "Like" button into Microsoft's Bing search engine.

Microsoft is a longtime investor in Facebook, and the two companies already have an agreement in place to display Facebook's public status updates on Bing Social. According to AllThingsD's sources, only Facebook users' "public" information will ever find its way into Microsoft's search database, in a nod to the social network's recent controversies over privacy.

Siphoning anonymous data from Facebook's "Like" button-which has appeared on a seemingly ever-larger number of Websites-could help refine Bing's search process. Microsoft executives offered similar justification for the company's 2009 search-and-advertising agreement with Yahoo, which they said would boost the amount of data digested by Bing, increasing its accuracy.

The article's sources emphasized, however, that the companies are nowhere close to finalizing a deal.

Facebook's subscriber numbers and ad revenue continue to grow, but at the cost of periodic user uprisings over the Website's privacy controls and how personal information is being used to boost that ad revenue. Nonetheless, the model developed by Facebook has managed to spread from the consumer world into the enterprise, where tech companies such as now offer applications that connect business users and their information in open or closed social networks.

According to The Nielsen Company, Bing overtook Yahoo in August to become the second-ranked search engine in the United States, with 13.9 percent of the market. Nielsen estimated Google's share at 65 percent. Other companies continue to place Bing third, behind Yahoo and Google.

"In terms of a year-over-year comparison, Google has seen little change in its share of search while Yahoo has seen a small but steady decline," said a Nielsen blog post Sept. 14. "MSN/Windows Live/Bing's share has grown from 10.7 percent in August 2009 to 13.9 percent (a delta increase of 3.2 percent or relative increase of 30 percent)."

But Google is still the top U.S. search engine, and its latest Instant Search feature threatens to be a game-changer. Bing and Google have spent the last year matching each other feature for feature, with only the occasional divergence-Bing, for example, now has an Entertainment Tab with access to movie trailers and games. Anything that allows Bing to import more data into its system will not only increase the accuracy of its search, but also enhance any future features.