The mudslinging continues this week between Baidu and Qihoo, as Baidu and other companies are now advising all employees to uninstall Qihoo 360’s web browser, after it was revealed last Friday that private information may be compromised by the browser through some underhanded tactics related to Qihoo’s new search engine.
The campaign began last week when Baidu’s R&D Manager Zhao Minghua 赵明华 warned users that 360 is violating industry “Robot” standards by crawling private user information from the web.
Based on a standard originally developed by Google to avoid certain information from showing up in search results, most search engines are supposed to omit results from websites flagged by “Robot.txt” files. Yet Baidu engineers found that several of Baidu’s internal web pages were immediately showing up on Qihoo’s engine, when other engines (Google, Soho, or Soso) were not displaying them, suggesting that the information was being mishandled.
Qihoo’s CEO Zhou Hongyi has responded, claiming that Baidu is deliberately revealing these pages only to Qihoo’s crawlers temporarily, then returning them to hidden status.
Yet there is precedent in this case, as Google found that Bing was using the same tactic with Internet Explorer back in 2010.
Though the Robots standard is not mandatory, these types of strategies do pose a security risk for users. Gaining information from browsers is not necessarily a bad way for 360 to crawl. Even Google Chrome finds top visited websites through its users, but it does not record them in search results. Most search engines tend to use their own servers to crawl for results.
Since last week, CNNIC is reporting that Qihoo has lost approximately 3,680,000 users and gone from 13.04% to 11.61% market share. Apparently Baidu’s warning has had an effect.
It looks like this battle might continue for some time. Honestly though, it’s getting a bit old.