Google vs. Bing: Microsoft Caught Stealing Search Results by Google Sting Operation

Deciding which search engine to use, Google or Bing, may become a moot point if Google’s allegations are true. Google alleges that a sting operation performed by its engineers proves that Microsoft has been using its Internet Explorer web browser and the Bing Search bar to harvest information on Google users.

AmitSinghal, a Google fellow who oversees the search engine’s ranking algorithm, was quite clear about Google’s findings. Singhal told FoxNews.com that “[o]ur testing has concluded that Bing is copying Google web search results.”Singhal further stated “I’ve got no problem with a competitor developing an innovative algorithm. But copying is not innovation, in my book.”

Bing doesn’t deny the claim. In a statement sent to Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land, who originally broke the story (Sullivan’s article can be found here: http://searchengineland.com/google-bing-is-cheating-copying-our-search-results-62914), Director of Bing Stefan Weitz seemed to all but admit the claim:

As you might imagine, we use multiple signals and approaches when we think about ranking, but like the rest of the players in this industry, we’re not going to go deep and detailed in how we do it. Clearly, the overarching goal is to do a better job determining the intent of the search, so we can guess at the best and most relevant answer to a given query. Opt-in programs like the [Bing] toolbar help us with clickstream data, one of many input signals we and other search engines use to help rank sites. This “Google experiment” seems like a hack to confuse and manipulate some of these signals.

Harry Shum, corporate vice president, did however deny the outright copying of results. “It’s not like we actually copy anything,” said Shum. “We use the customer data to help improve the search experience.”

A summary of Microsoft’s responses to Google’s allegations can be found here: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/microsoft/microsoft-we-do-not-copy-googles-results/8557.

Google first became suspicious of Bing’s results around May 2010 when it began noticing that Bing was returning the same sites as Google for unusual misspellings. When searching for a misspelled word, Google’s search engine often corrects the spelling and shows results as if the correctly spelled word had been entered into the search box. The fact that Google instead searches for the correctly spelled word is noted on the top of the page, along with an option to search for what Google notes as the misspelled word.

Bing also performs a similar function, including results for what it views as the correct spelling along with results for the misspelled word. This is also noted at the top of the page. However, in May 2010, Google noticed that Bing was not correcting certain misspelled words, yet was returning the same results as Google did for its corrected spelling results.

Concerns were raised again in October 2010 when Google noticed a marked rise in two key competitive metrics. Across a wide range of searches, Bing was showing a much greater overlap with Google’s top 10 results than in preceding months. In addition, there was an increase in the percentage of times both Google and Bing listed exactly the same page in the number one spot.

Based on these suspicions, Google set up a sting operation. Google engineers manually manipulated the top ranked result for certain searches that few people, if anyone, would enter into Google. Such searches included “hiybbprqag,”“mbzrxpgiys,” and “indoswiftjobinproduction. Two weeks later, some of the top ranked results began to appear on Bing.

“It’s cheating to me because we work incredibly hard and have done so for years — but they just get there based on our hard work,” a frustrated Singhal told Sullivan. “I don’t know how else to call it but plain and simple cheating. Another analogy is that it’s like running a marathon and carrying someone else on your back, who jumps off just before the finish line.”

What does this mean for consumers? It means two of the top three search engines become more the same, which is not necessarily a good thing. Being more like Google, does not necessarily guarantee the best search results.

For more background and details about the sting operation conducted by Google, here is a link to Google’s official blog: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/02/microsofts-bing-uses-google-search.html.

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