Compare/Contrast: Microsoft vs. Google vs. Yahoo Search API Terms of Service

September 14th, 2009

Pete Warden is an entrepreneur working on ways to find the value in one’s social networks through his company Mailana. We’ve only met online, though I hope one day we can connect in person because I like what he’s doing a lot.

Pete blogged last week about why he switched from Yahoo’s search API to Bing to Google. I wouldn’t know a REST interface from a stick in the ground, but he makes a point about terms of use where I can definitely weigh in.  For kicks, I looked up the terms of use for Yahoo BOSS, Bing and Google search APIs.  It is fascinating to me that the terms are substantially different.

I won’t go into all the differences in great detail and readers certainly should not take this listing as comprehensive in any way, but for example:

Delivery of Search Results.

Google cares a lot about this.  They say that developers can not reorder search results or intermix results from other sources. No surprise here; integrity of search results is key to public acceptance.
Bing is almost identical to Google. 
Yahoo
asks developers to acknowledge that reordering may affect “relevance or performance” and leaves it to the developer to decide what to do about it.

Yahoo really surprises me here.  I read the TOS 4 times to be sure I wasn’t missing something, but they seem to accept a laissez faire approach that would let me reorder search results or insert paid listings.  There is some language about the way queries and search results should be presented that might be read to limit this a little, but it is nowhere close to Google or Microsoft’s blanket proscription.  It is also possible that some other document adds this restriction, but I couldn’t find it on quick review.

Integration with other products.

Google says that search results can only be overlaid on Google maps and that Google retains the right to insert ads in search listing, which is a fairly narrow set of restrictions.
Yahoo puts a blanket prohibition of use of any Yahoo APIs “in a product or service that competes with products or services offered by Yahoo!”.  That seems incredibly broad and hard to understand to me.
Bing mentions MSFT’s Virtual Earth maps, but doesn’t make a big deal of other online products.

I am a little surprised that Google doesn’t mention any of its other products, but maybe there are technical reasons around use of the APIs that make it unnecessary.  Yahoo has so many properties doing so many different things (and Microsoft so few) that the language on this item doesn’t surprise me at all, though I wonder how a developer could possibly know its product doesn’t compete with some Yahoo product somewhere.

Content.

Yahoo offers a long list of content its APIs can’t be used to promote, including spyware, cigarettes, illegal drugs and paraphernalia,  pornography, prostitution, body parts and bodily fluids, and professional services regulated by state licensing regimes.
Google tells developers not to upload, post, email, transmit or make available inappropriate, defamatory, infringing, obscene or unlawful content.
Bing says only that developers may not “promote or provide instructional information about illegal activities or promote physical harm or injury against any group or individual”.

Bing is the clear winner here for porn sites in need a search API.  Google runs a close second with its local-standards-dependent “inappropriate” and “obscene” restrictions, and Yahoo is by far the most family-friendly search API.

On a serious note, it looks like Yahoo would not allow my law firm to use its search API on our web site.  I can’t see the rationale for this whatsoever, but the point is duly noted.

This was an interesting exercise.  Search products look awfully similar from the outside and it is easy to lump them all in a basket.  The companies behind them have different motives for making the APIs available and it is instructive to review the requirements.

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