It's crazy but it's true: Apple rejected Bing for wrong answers about Annie Lennox

Cupertino only wanted to be with Google for search – despite the prospect of buying Bing outright

Bad search results for the query "Annie Lennox first band" were among the reasons Apple rejected an approach from Microsoft to use the Bing search engine as the default in its Safari browser – and also discarded the idea of a joint venture to make Bing better or even the chance to buy the search engine outright.

Those claims surfaced last Friday in a filing [PDF] from Google in its antitrust case against the US government.

The filing includes the Annie Lennox reference in testimony from John Giannandrea, Apple's vice president of machine learning and AI strategy. Giannandrea clearly appreciated that, while Lennox is best known for her time in The Eurythmics and subsequent solo work, her break came as a singer in The Tourists. In 1979 that band covered Dusty Springfield's "I Only Want To Be With You" and reached number four on the UK singles chart.

In 2018, Giannandrea used Bing to research the singer's career because Microsoft had approached Apple in the hope of displacing Google as Safari's default search engine. When he asked Bing to name Lennox's first band, the results mentioned only The Eurythmics.

Giannandrea wasn't impressed by that, nor Bing's lack of local language coverage in markets Apple cared about, nor the poor progress Microsoft had made improving the search engine since the two tech giants previously discussed search preferences during 2015 and 2016.

In meetings with Redmond, Giannandrea felt Microsoft acknowledged Bing's shortcomings and "gave us a detailed presentation of what they were not doing, presumably to motivate us to say, 'Hey if we invested in this together, we could do these things."

Giannandrea's testimony, as recorded in the filing, also states: "Microsoft was willing to sell Bing, which you wouldn't do if it was a strategic asset."

The filing is part of Google's defense in the antitrust case that alleges it flouted competition laws to build its dominance of the US search market.

The Apple anecdotes are important, because they illustrate how the iGiant tested Google and Bing, and rejected the latter on grounds it produced inferior results and monetization opportunities for Apple. Even after Microsoft promised to improve Bing during 2015 and 2016, the filing states, the search engine still had flaws Apple could not excuse in 2018.

The filing also reports that from 2014 to 2017 Mozilla made Yahoo! the default search engine in Firefox on condition it improve the quality of search results. Yahoo! did not deliver, and Mozilla ended the deal. Privacy-centric search engine DuckDuckGo, the filing alleges, sometimes preferred to funnel fresh sources of funding to investors rather than improve its own service.

The thrust of the filing is that Google invested a lot to make its search service excellent, while rivals never succeeded in attempts to match it – so Google is not a ruthless monopolist, but a restless innovator. Even the presence of Google search in Android and Chrome, the filing argues, did not preclude competition.

The proof of that argument, the filing suggests, is that the likes of Apple kept doing business with Google because no better option existed in the US.

Advertisers, the filing argues, also found Google's services superior.

The web giant clearly hopes its sweet dreams of exoneration are made of this filing – and who are we to disagree?

And even if Google loses, it wins. As Eurythmics wrote: "everybody's looking for something" – and these days that means using search engines. ®

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like