A MSN Search employee has been arrested on allegations that he hacked and stole private search engine technology from the AltaVista search engine. The alleged hacking took place two years ago, when Laurent Chavet, who worked for AltaVista, illegally broke into the AV computer system in March 2002 and June 2002, between jobs at AltaVista and Microsoft.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that
Chavet’s arrest was announced by the U.S. attorney in northern California last week without reference to his current employment. Microsoft acknowledged yesterday that Chavet is a Microsoft employee but declined to name the team on which he works.
However, three other people with knowledge of Chavet’s Microsoft employment confirmed that he has been working on the MSN Search effort. A brief biography attached to a paper Chavet co-wrote on text analytics described him as an expert “in all aspects of search technology.” He worked at IBM’s Almaden Research Center after leaving AltaVista and before joining Microsoft.
This is a direct blow to Microsoft as their MSN division is putting the final touches on a new search engine which is designed to challenge Yahoo and Google for search engine dominance while also breaking Microsoft’s dependency on Yahoo for sponsored search listings and paid inclusion. Since the allegations state that this crime did not take place while Chavet was working with Microsoft, this case is not built against the Washington company – however, it still doesn’t look good for Microsoft or their new search efforts.
According to the FBI affidavit, Chavet told investigators that he worked on the AltaVista source code while at the company and logged into the AltaVista system after leaving because he “was ‘curious’ about the evolution of the source code after his departure.”