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Microsoft sues John Does for bilking search bribery machine

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Microsoft has sued ten John Does for allegedly pilfering money from its search bribery machine.

Last May, in a desperate attempt to catch the uncatchable Google, Redmond began bribing people to use its third-rate search engine, Live Search. If you used search ads to find and buy certain stuff, Redmond would return a portion of the purchase price. Eventually.

Live Search has since vanished in favor of something Microsoft insists on calling Bing. But the bribery machine is still around. Naturally, it's now called Bing cashback.

With a recent Washington state suit, Microsoft accuses ten anonymous netizens of nabbing bribe money that didn't belong to them. "Defendants employed a scheme by which they obtained and attempted to obtain LiveSearch cashback payments under false pretenses and in violation of [Microsoft's service agreement]," the suit reads.

The suit is low on details, but it would seem the scheme involved a hack: "Defendants intentionally accessed a protected computer without authorization, or in excess of authorized access, and thereby obtained information from a protected computer," Redmond alleges.

Microsoft has yet to provide a full response to our request for comment. But a company spokesman told The Seattle Post Intelligencer: "This filing is a relatively routine action to help investigate fraud as part of our ongoing efforts to protect the integrity of our networks.

"The particular case here relates to suspected fraudulent credit card use for purchases made in the Live Search cashback program. We've filed this John Doe complaint as a step in the discovery process to enable us to get additional information from third parties for our investigation."

It's unclear how much bribe money was taken. But Microsoft is claiming damages in excess of $5,000.

Just after the bribery machine launched, eBayers noticed they could game the system by selling $630 in cash for $714. But Microsoft has told us that it has ways of stopping such schemes. "eBay and Microsoft have...incorporated various levels of abuse and fraud mitigation techniques throughout the program," it said. "We’re committed to providing a positive Live Search cashback experience for consumers and are actively working with eBay to identify, correct and prevent isolated incidents of inappropriate use of this program." ®

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