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Microsoft search accused of bias


© April 2005 Tony Lawrence

At https://www.ivor.it/goog/ , Ivor Hewitt says that MSN search may be biased toward IIS hosted sites. If true, I sure wouldn't be overly surprised - I think the culture of dishonesty runs deep in the corporate world, and perhaps even deeper than most at Microsoft.

I've tested MSN against Google before and have noticed that for searches where articles here are in the top ten, they are always lower at MSN, and sometimes not on the first page at all. But that's hardly statistically significant. The same charge has been made against Ivan's samples, saying that they are too small to be meaningful.

It's hard to believe that Microsoft would be dumb enough to do this. Credibility is extremely important in search; this could cause them to lose a lot of users. Any corporate advantage from favoring IIS sites is hard to imagine - diverting more traffic to those sites doesn't put any immediate revenue back in their pockets. In fact, it might have the opposite effect: too much traffic might drive someone to bigger Unix based servers..

And then there's the matter of Apache sites spoofing their headers to look like they are running IIS. Some sites do that in hopes of fooling would be attackers - probably not a lot, but probably enough to muddle things (though headers aren't the whole story - there are other tests that can identify the type of web server pretty accurately).

It's also been suggested that MSN does a better job filtering out the focused link-farm type sites - these are the things that just gather together links and rss feeds that match some particular topic, surround them with a bazillion ads, load them with popups, and cross-link to each other to increase their search ranking. Most of these sites run on very low cost Linux servers; their business plan is dozens or hundreds of very low cost sites each generating a small amount of profit. If MSN does filter those out more accurately, that could explain the apparent bias.


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