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Microsoft threatens to restrict access to Bing's internet-search data to rival companies providing AI-powered online search tools

Microsoft Corp has threatened to cut off access to its internet-search data, which it licences to rival search engines, if they do not stop using it as the basis for their own artificial intelligence (AI) chat products, according to people familiar with the dispute.

The software maker licences the data in its Bing search index - a map of the internet that can be quickly scanned in real time - to other companies that offer web search, such as Apollo Global Management's Yahoo and DuckDuckGo.

In February, Microsoft integrated a cousin of ChatGPT, start-up OpenAI's AI-powered chat technology, into Bing.

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Rivals quickly moved to roll out their own AI chatbots as hype built around the buzzy technology.

Microsoft Corp shows how its long-struggling Bing search engine has integrated the powerful capabilities of language-based artificial intelligence at an event held in the company's headquarters in Redmond, Washington, on February 7, 2023. Photo: Tribune News Service alt=Microsoft Corp shows how its long-struggling Bing search engine has integrated the powerful capabilities of language-based artificial intelligence at an event held in the company's headquarters in Redmond, Washington, on February 7, 2023. Photo: Tribune News Service>

This week, Alphabet's Google publicly released Bard, its conversational AI product. DuckDuckGo, a search engine that emphasises privacy, introduced DuckAssist, a feature that uses AI to summarise answers to search queries.

You.com and Neeva - two newer search engines that debuted in 2021 - have also debuted AI-fuelled search services, YouChat and NeevaAI.

These search chatbots aim to combine the conversational skills of ChatGPT with the information provided by a conventional search engine.

DuckDuckGo, You.com and Neeva's regular search engines all use Bing to provide some of their information, because indexing the entire web is costly - it requires servers to store data and a constant crawl of the internet to incorporate updates. It would be similarly complex and pricey to get together that data for a search chatbot.

Microsoft has told at least two customers that using its Bing search index to feed their AI chat tools violates the terms of their contract, according to the people, who spoke anonymously because they were discussing a confidential dispute.

The Redmond, Washington-based technology company said it may terminate the licences providing access to its search index, the people said.

Microsoft did not have an immediate comment.

If they were cut off from Microsoft's index, smaller search engines would have a hard time finding an alternative. Microsoft and Google are the only two companies that index the entire web, and Google's limitations on the use of its index have led nearly all other search engines to use Bing.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2023 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2023. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.