Should Search Engines Like Bing Pay You to Use Them?

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Internet search engines – we all use them. With the wealth of content available online, they are a necessary part of the digital landscape, enabling users to discover more content and particularly useful information. A search engine may even be how you found this article today. There are many options, from Google to Bing, Yahoo to Ask, AOL and beyond. How does one choose?


What if one of these search engines were to sweeten the proverbial pot, and entice you to use it over others? In a world where shades of grey are the differences between very similar services, wouldn’t this give a keen edge to that search engine? Well this is exactly what is going on today.


Some press points out that Bing, owned and operated by Microsoft, offers an incentive program known as “Bing Rewards.” Under the system, users install a browser plugin and create an account. After meeting certain other requirements, program enrollees accumulate points per search using Bing. These points can then be redeemed for things like gift cards, sweepstakes entries and even charitable donations.


There is a limit on the daily number of points one can accumulate and certain other restrictions (the program currently runs only in the 50 United States).


The Bing Rewards program essentially boils down to a loyalty rewards program, similar to ones run by everything from restaurants and gas stations, stores, hotels and more. Loyalty programs encourage brand loyalty and keep consumers coming back to a particular company in often saturated marketplaces. It is a means for companies to distinguish themselves. However, some ethical questions arise from the use of this particular rewards program.


One concern lies in the potential for the manipulation of search statistics and the impact of this on other companies. The toughly contested search engine market, like any internet business, is measured in traffic and number of users. By “buying” clicks and time on the site, is Microsoft unfairly skewing statistics in their favor? Are the sites showing up in these searches also getting an unfair and unintentional boost if users idly click on these sites? Furthermore, undoubtedly many people participating in the rewards program are randomly and aimlessly searching just to earn their points. Such participants are not interested in their search results. If so, does Bing have the right to report those searches when it reports its site performance?


When considering the above points, does your perception change when the user is redeeming points for charity as opposed to for personal gain?


Let us know what you think of this fascinating issue in our developing discussion of ethics in the digital age. Also be sure to check out past articles like “You Can Unlock More on Netflix, But Should You?” and “The Ethics of Proxy Servers,” as well as our new article “The Morality of Hotels Fining for Bad Reviews” to further develop your viewpoint.


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