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Microsoft limits new search reward program to IE

Required toolbar 'phones home' some user search data back to Microsoft

October 1, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Microsoft Corp. today launched a rewards program to entice consumers to its Live Search site, but it requires Internet Explorer and bars users of rival browsers, including Firefox, Safari, Opera and Chrome.

A toolbar required for participation also collects some search behavior data, including the number of searches on rival engines, and transmits the information to Microsoft daily.

One search expert questioned the restriction to IE, as well as Microsoft's decision to gather a wide-ranging amount of data from users, though he wouldn't go so far as to describe the company's newest attempt to get users to try its search site as "desperate."

"Why take this approach?" asked Danny Sullivan, editor in chief of the Search Engine Land Web site. "I think that Microsoft would do better if they pretended they didn't own IE. But paying people to try [Live Search] doesn't mean that they're desperate. I think it's an interesting way to get people to break the Google habit."

Google, in fact, paid site owners pennies per search as far back as 1999, Sullivan said, "and no one called Google desperate then."

Dubbed SearchPerks, the program awards users up to 25 "tickets" a day for each completed search at Microsoft's Live Search. Then tickets can be redeemed for prizes after the program ends next April. Among the rewards Microsoft touted on the SeachPerks site: free music downloads, clothing and frequent flyer miles on American Airlines, Delta and US Airways.

The program, which is available to U.S. residents 13 and older who have a Windows Live ID, also requires users to download and install a small toolbar, called Perk Counter, that keeps track of the number of Live Search searches and thus the number of reward tickets.

Perk Counter will install only in Internet Explorer, Microsoft's browser. Competitors -- including Mozilla's Firefox, Apple's Safari, Google's Chrome and Opera Software's Opera -- cannot be used with the SearchPerks rewards program. Attempts to visit the program's Web site with any of those browsers, in fact, are greeted with the message: "To earn value for your searches and join the SearchPerks! promotion you must have Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher to participate."

According to Microsoft, the Perk Counter tallies more than the number of Live Search searches. In the terms and conditions for the program, as well as in a separate FAQ, Microsoft spelled out what the counter records and sends to its servers daily.

"The software records and sends to Microsoft the number of Web searches you do each day on different search engines; the types of searches you complete, such as for news or images; and the number of online ads you click on," states the SearchPerks' terms and conditions.

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