Samsung, Microsoft bending the truth in marketing?

Microsoft

(MoneyWatch) Few consumers would be shocked that companies will at times stretch the truth, slant information, or otherwise bend over backwards to make things sound better than they are. That's the current case with some high tech heavyweights like Microsoft (MSFT) and a number of Android hardware manufacturers, including Samsung, LG, HTC, and Asus.

Each has been caught in its own way. It's a reminder to take everything an advertiser says with a grain of salt.

Finding significant juggling, stretching, and bending of numbers is nothing new. Apple does it too (AAPL).

But these latest examples from the Android crowd and Microsoft are brazen. Start with the former, the Android group -- a technical expert in Luxembourg allegedly found that some technical specs as shown by testing software, called benchmarks, were effectively faked. That would be a serious charge, because benchmarks are used to help develop the specifications that consumers see to compare the performance of hardware from different manufacturers.

According to the blog AnandTech, which undertook an investigation as a result, Samsung's Galaxy S4 would detect if certain benchmark software was running and would then raise the thermal limits of the graphics processor unit, or GPU. Raising the thermal limits means that the chip would temporarily run significantly faster to "gain an edge on those benchmarks." Similarly, in devices using certain CPU (central processing unit) chips, Samsung would push CPU frequency to its highest state and immediately use all major sections of the chip, again to boost apparent performance to a degree that would not normally be available.

And then Anandtech expanded its examination, because the CPU chips in question were common among Android devices. It reports that certain devices from Asus, HTC, and LG also seemed to cheat on certain benchmarks. The Moto RAZR i, Moto X, Nexus 4, and Nexus 7 were free of apparent benchmark cheating.

As for Microsoft, its alleged foray into marketing imagination took place in its highly advertised Bing versus Google (GOOG) search engine competition. Microsoft has its "Bing It On" site, where people can blindly test the two search engines.

The site Freakonomics found that results it ran on the site differed greatly from the two-to-one preference Microsoft says people had for Bing over Google.

We randomly assigned participants to search for one of three kinds of keywords: Bing's suggested search terms, popular search terms, and self-suggested search terms. When Bing-suggested search terms were used the two engines statistically tied (47% preferring Bing vs. 48% preferring Google). But when the subjects in the study suggested their own searches or used the web's most popular searches, a sizable gap appeared: 55-57% preferred Google while only 35-39% preferred Bing. These secondary tests indicate that Microsoft selected suggested search words that it knew were more likely to produce Bing-preferring results.

Furthermore, Microsoft's big claims are based on a group of 1,000 responses it received, which article author Ian Ayres found to be thin for such a broad claim, and doesn't say whether the "millions" who have taken the Bing challenge online break out the same way.

Then again, Ayres doesn't mention how many people his study involved. It just shows that you can't necessarily believe anything you read.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.