Is Yahoo-Microsoft Pact Enough to Fight Google?

The recent announcement of Yahoo and Microsoft’s partnership may mean more choice and transparency for consumers, advertisers and publishers. It certainly means more competition in the world of online search and advertisements. Carol Bartz of Yahoo and Steven A. Ballmer of Microsoft finally put pen to paper on Wednesday, July 29, 2009, to announce this partnership, and to make a promise of more relevant and useful search results. Currently, Google tops the list of most preferred search engines.

Ballmer acknowledges that these searches are primary gateways to all information and knowledge on Internet, and online advertisements fuel internet content and commerce. Therefore, to ensure search innovation, greater return to advertisers on their investments and more choice to the rest of the world, this partnership may play a noticeable role in shifting the market dynamics.

According to the pact, Microsoft will provide the underlying search technology on Yahoo’s popular websites. Yahoo is reported to benefit by focusing its investments on audience properties, display advertising and the mobile Internet experiences. It is also speculated to further its strategy on its strengths as a publisher of Web media sites in areas like finance and sports, and as a marketer and leader in online display advertising. Furthermore, Yahoo gets 88% of the search revenues for search ads on Yahoo’s sites. But, it gets nothing from premium advertiser clicks on Bing even though it is selling the ads. Microsoft benefits by winning a wider exposure to its newly overhauled and well-received search engine Bing.

Both Yahoo and Microsoft are deeply committed to protecting consumer privacy. Yahoo retains people’s search data, including keywords, cookie information and IP address, but no names or addresses, for three months. After that, the data gets further anonymized so that it cannot be connected to a particular person. Microsoft retains such data for 18 months, after which it undergoes complete anonymization. Google retains data for 9 months after which it makes it difficult to link IP addresses to actual people. However, the cookie information becomes anonymous at 18 months. This retention of data is an important source of insight for Google to take steps to improve its engines and searches.

Search inquiries are a sensitive issue since they hold the power to expose personal information about things like illness, financial concerns and various political and personal preferences. European regulators hold that Internet companies should not hold data beyond six months. The teaming up of Yahoo and Microsoft can further alter the approach to privacy and retention of search inquiries as the competition for bragging rights to who has the best practices is likely to increase.

For those who are either displeased by the aforementioned privacy policies of these search giants, or those who want to opt for a search tool which doesn’t keep IP addresses, some options include Ixquick, and and its AskEraser feature.  And those who are interested in switching on the grounds of accuracy and extent of search results, the website provides a user-friendly way of comparing search results from the three major Internet Search engines: Google, Yahoo and Bing (although sometimes the third search engine results can be found by scrolling down, instead of all three available in three parallel columns). Using this website can enable the consumers to instantly see the tool that best meets their needs. In conclusion, however, the question that only time can answer is whether the Yahoo-Microsoft merger will be sufficient to entice consumers and advertisers into re-evaluating their search engine preferences.