There’s usually only one of two reasons that companies take a revenue source and toss it out the window by raising their ethical standards. One they’re actually ethical. This is of course only theoretical because no major search engine we know of is ethical. Or two, they’re desperate for traffic or dodging incoming regulations.
The latter is plausible when it comes to Microsoft since after getting thoroughly burned by the Justice Department and Senate under Clinton which even dragged Bill Gates into the spotlight leaving him cowering like a small wooly mammal before the cameras without even the comfort of Jay Leno’s chin and teleprompter, has learned to back off before being regulated. Though its retreats bring to mind Vladimir Illych Lenin’s one step back and two steps forward approach as Microsoft’s retreats tend to cover their advances.
Now Ask.com has a reasonable basis for tossing out a new populist feature, since Ask.com desperately needs to gain real market share if it’s to survive and its executives know it too. Long term search data won’t be worth much when Ask.com goes belly up, except at its fire sale.
Microsoft however is actually gaining market share thanks to Vista. Microsoft may not have whipped Yahoo and Google into a corner and isn’t likely to but it has firmly positioned itself as number three. Microsoft’s own privacy innovations may be dismissed as a gimmick easily rescinded at any time by Steve Ballmer but like Derek Smart punching a coke machine, there is a reason for everything. (Okay bad example).