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Microsoft's Bing to slurp Facebook users' data and likes

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Microsoft and Facebook are partnering on Bing, folding in information from 500 million Facebookers into Microsoft's search engine — but claiming they'll respect your privacy.

The companies rolled out a feature Wednesday that will search through your Facebook contacts' Likes and fire recommendations into Bing trawled from your peeps' Facebook posts to supplement Bing searches.

Also, Bing will slurp your friends' profiles to help Bing users when they're searching for specific individuals — contacts, long-lost school friends — or just Googling Binging around on a wet Friday afternoon waiting for the clock to run down. Returns in both cases are pulled into the Bing results page using a Facebook module for Bing.

The features are live now, with deeper integration planned. Microsoft and Facebook want to bring in your friends across different pages in the "near term". The ability to supplement Bing with returns from Facebook users considered domain experts is "further out".

Microsoft called this the initial step in harnessing the "tremendous potential" of social networks and the Facebook platform, "taking today's search experience to the next level."

Unveiling the features on Microsoft's Mountain View, California, campus, Microsoft and Facebook were at pains to stress the new features' privacy aspects when grilled by the press.

Speaking were Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and vice president of partnerships and platform marketing Dan Rose, along with the president of Microsoft's online services business Qi Lu and senior vice president of online audiences Yusuf Mehdi.

They flagged up two features they claim will protect people's privacy.

One is a pop-up window that will detect whether you're in a Facebook session or have a live Facebook cookie on your machine. That pop-up, Mehdi said, would explain the "improvements" in Bing — i.e., integration with Facebook. It will appear four times, giving you the opportunity to allow or block it. Ignore the fourth occurrence, and slurp-access rights will be granted

After that, you have to go into your Facebook account's settings to prevent the great slurp.

Zuckerberg, meanwhile, said only data that Facebook users have volunteered to make public to other sites through Instant Personalization would be slurped.

Facebook's CEO reckoned that there are a lot of "misconceptions" around Instant Personalization that it would be good to clear up. "Bing can see no other information about you that the other 500 million people using Facebook couldn't see," he said.

Good luck trying to navigate Instant Personalization and your privacy settings.

"People seem to have this notion that you go this site and Facebook sends all this information to that site — but that's not true," Zuckerberg said.

He added that Bing is not sending the search engine user's information back to Facebook.

It's clear what Microsoft gets from the work announced Wednesday: access to Facebook's billions of users who provide context around search, and a move away from URLs and simple web page returns and tons of unsorted videos that you, the searcher, have to wade through to find what you're after.

For example, you can search "Stephen Colbert Bing" and — potentially, at least — find the specific video clip you want using a link from the page of friend on Facebook who may have posted the exact video, instead of having to wade through other clips or mashups that mention Stephen Colbert and Bing.

Lu said Bing pulls back results by looking at the linguistic head of a query, and through the algorithms' ability to understand the intent of the query.

It's unclear, though, what Facebook gets from Bing apart from the pride of flipping a middle finger at Google. Asked about revenue split and business model, Rose said he wouldn't get into details. Rose said Facebook has a four-year relationship with Microsoft.

Why has Facebook partnered with Bing? Zuckerberg likes to team up with "underdogs" because their lowly status is an "incentive to really go deep and do things that other companies aren't doing."

The companies also have a partnership going back to 2006 for injecting search, ads, and Microsoft's maps into Facebook's pages, which might have something to do with it.

"They really are the underdog here, so they are in a structural position to go all-out and innovate. When you are an incumbent, there's a tension to protect what you have and push new things," the Facebook CEO said.

Did you get that, Microsoft? Just in case your not clear, Mr World's Largest Software Company, you're the scrappy underdog in this scenario, according to the start-up's CEO.

In answer to a question from The Reg, Facebook's CEO made it clear this is not an exclusive, long-term marriage and Facebook is open to working with search partners other than Microsoft. "We are trying to build a platform, so for us this isn't about working with just a single company. Over the long term we would love to work with everyone," he said.

Rose added that the extensions will be rolled out with more partners over time.

Microsoft, for its part, dodged the question of whether it would integrate other social networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn, or Orkut from Google, into Bing's personal search returns.

"Facebook is really the fantastic opportunity today. The work we've done here is where our time and focus is," Mehdi said, sticking faithfully to the prepared script.

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