Microsoft says it's ending a business agreement with a publisher that had violated the company's affiliate guidelines by changing the default search tool in users' browsers to Bing under the guise of offering a separate service.
A report posted by Advertising Age (registration required) raised eyebrows yesterday when it pointed to a site called Make-my-baby.com as being the third largest advertiser on social networks, citing ComScore's third-quarter search report as the source.
The tool (now down), which facilitated a simulation of decorating a virtual baby, would require users to install a browser plug-in in order to use it. Behind the scenes, the site would also change the user's default browser search engine to Microsoft's Bing, which it explained within the fine print.
Shortly following the Ad Age report, and the discovery of the tie between the site and the Bing switch, Microsoft told blog Search Engine Land that it was ending its relationship with the publisher of Make-my-baby.com:
"Distribution deals and affiliate programs are an important part of how all search engines introduce their product to customers. That said, we have been made aware of some practices from a specific publisher that are not compliant with the guidelines, best practices, and principles put in place by Bing. As a result, the relationship with this publisher will be terminated."
Matt Cutts, who leads Google's anti-Web spam group, says the group responsible for the tool appears to be the same creators of a similar site that would simulate aging on photos. However, instead of using affiliate linking, that site would sign users up to a $10- to $20-a-month subscription plan.