Microsoft’s Hand Caught in Google Cookie Jar
The globalized world we live in has become ever-more connected (see Globalization Train), and the recent events in Egypt where mass protests were organized, in large part by Facebook and Twitter, only goes to show the importance technology plays in our daily lives. As a result of our tight global links and the advancement of technology, product cycles have only become shorter and more competitive, raising the stakes for business success. The expanded field of cut-throat competitors in a digital age has also increased the value of intellectual property (IP). Increasingly, lawyers and judges are being forced to decipher the obscure realm of bits and bytes and vigorously defend unique IP from competitors.
If You Can’t Beat Them, Copy Them
Case in point is the current war of code-words between Google Inc. (GOOG) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT). Google claims they have caught Microsoft’s hand in the corporate espionage cookie jar by watching Microsoft effectively steal Google’s algorithmic search code for the software giant’s Bing search service. How can Google make such harsh and direct accusations? Google claims to have set up “synthetic” searches, which were designed as digital booby traps. Based on Google’s story, Microsoft appears to have taken the bait…hook, line, and sinker.
You be the judge. Here was the synthetic search result for “indoswiftjobinproduction” when entered in Google:
This is the response when the same search term “indoswiftjobinproduction” was keyed in on Microsoft’s Bing search service:
Coincidence? Perhaps. Likely? No.
Well, maybe lightning just struck with the “indoswiftjobinproduction” search term gibberish – why not try another?
This is what Google’s search results created when “mbzrxpgjys” was entered:
When the same “mbzrxpgjys” term was inputted into Microsoft’s Bing, here was the result:
Hmmm, I seem to be detecting a pattern here.
Is Microsoft’s apparent copycat behavior illegal? The evidence for the moment doesn’t appear to be clear, thanks mostly to the fine-print legalese of confusing check boxes that nobody reads when downloading or using any internet service. Evidently, many Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) users have unknowingly provided Google search information typed in through Microsoft’s IE browser, and the Redmond behemoth has been using this information to sharpen their search algorithms.
So if this behavior is not illegal, then should this activity be considered cheating? Here’s what Amit Singhal, a Google executive who oversees the company’s search engine ranking algorithm has to say about the issue:
“It’s cheating to me because we work incredibly hard and have done so for years but they just get there based on our hard work…I don’t know how else to call it but plain and simple cheating. Another analogy is that it’s like running a marathon and carrying someone else on your back, who jumps off just before the finish line.”
I’m sure this will not be the last we hear on the subject of technology and corporate cheating. As a matter of fact, in the field of intellectual property crimes, French-Japanese car giant Renault-Nissan recently brought the case of industrial espionage, corruption, theft, stolen goods, and conspiracy against three senior Renault executives. The allegations of selling crucial electric car information to the Chinese raised concerns to a feverish pitch in the tabloids because so much can be gained or lost by those involved in this estimated $2 trillion electric car market.
The committing of crimes is nothing new, but the types of new crimes are changing. In a globalized world increasingly dominated by technology, perpetrators better think twice about committing these invisible crimes. Cheating may taste sweet, until you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and GOOG, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in MSFT, Facebook, Twitter, Renault, Nissan, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.