Microsoft’s Bing search engine was accused Tuesday of pilfering its search results from Google. Google said it discovered Bing’s tactics through a “sting” operation mounted at the end of last year.
For the purpose of the operation, Google created some esoteric searches which it rigged to display specific pages in the search results in its own search engine. Then it told 20 of its engineers to go home and run the searches on their laptops using Internet Explorer with the “Suggested Sites” and Bing toolbar enabled. After two weeks or so, Google discovered the searches were producing the same results on Bing.
“The only reason these pages appeared on Google was because Google forced them to be there,” Danny Sullivan explained at SearchEngineLand. “There was nothing that made them naturally relevant for these searches. If they started to appeared at Bing after Google, that would mean that Bing took Google’s bait and copied its results.”
Naturally, Google was steamed by its findings. “I’ve spent my career in pursuit of a good search engine,” Amit Singhal, who oversees the search engine’s ranking algorithm, told Sullivan. “I’ve got no problem with a competitor developing an innovative algorithm. But copying is not innovation, in my book.”
Bing, on the other hand, dismissed the value of Google’s sting operation. “We use over 1,000 different signals and features in our ranking algorithm,” declared Bing Corporate Vice President Harry Shum in a Bing blog. “A small piece of that is clickstream data we get from some of our customers, who opt-in to sharing anonymous data as they navigate the web in order to help us improve the experience for all users.”
“To be clear,” he continued, “we learn from all of our customers. What we saw in today’s story was a spy-novelesque stunt to generate extreme outliers in tail query ranking. It was a creative tactic by a competitor, and we’ll take it as a back-handed compliment. But it doesn’t accurately portray how we use opt-in customer data as one of many inputs to help improve our user experience.”