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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 02/ 2/2011

Bing and Google get into search slapfight

By Rob Pegoraro

You could say that Bing has been engaged in the sincerest form of flattery. But the company making this observation--Google--would probably not phrase things so nicely.

Tuesday morning, Google alleged that Microsoft's Bing has been using that company's Internet Explorer browser and Bing toolbar to gather intelligence on Google's search results, then refine its own findings accordingly.


As explained in a long post by Search Engine Land editor Danny Sullivan, Google set out to prove this by artificially inserting search results in response to near-gibberish searches and then seeing if Bing would yield the same links in response to the same queries.

Sullivan's piece and a later item on Google's own blog show the results in pairs of screenshots. Each post illustrates how a search on a misspelled or made-up word--"torsoraphy" or "hiybbprqag," for instance--yielded similar links both on an adulterated Google results page and in Bing's normal search.

Microsoft representatives didn't deny the practice to Sullivan but said it was only a minor ingredient in Bing's search stew. In a post on the Bing blog later Tuesday, Harry Shrum, a Microsoft vice president, called Google's expose "a spy-novelesque stunt to generate extreme outliers."

Representatives of the two companies continued to snipe at each other on Twitter throughout the day, and I suspect they'll resume the debate Wednesday morning.

Aaaannnd? Not much, really. It's not sportsmanlike behavior for one search engine to copy another's results, but this isn't sports or even a nice game of chess. It's a business with a lot of money at stake, and both sites would be stupid not to snoop on each other. Further, when hordes of plagiarists and spammers are out to pollute search results with irrelevant content, you should want search engines to pursue every legal option to improve their accuracy.

I'll allow that Bing owes Google an apology for passing off Google results as its own. More importantly, as Sullivan's post notes, Microsoft's privacy disclosures in IE and the Bing toolbar could be a lot clearer about what kind of data get recorded.

But the esoteric nature of Google's tests suggests what a rare set of circumstances we're dealing with here. And it's not as if Google hasn't borrowed from other sites itself, whether it's adding thumbnail preview images of search results years after did or briefly copying Bing's habit of displaying an artsy photo as its home-page background.

Google's first incarnation acknowledged the collaborative nature of search by providing shortcuts to repeat a Google query on such competing sites as Yahoo and AltaVista. In that spirit, I hope Google, Bing and all other sites that aim to connect people with useful information online continue to try to learn one another's tricks. It's not like all these sites--Google included--couldn't stand to improve their game.

By Rob Pegoraro  | February 2, 2011; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Search  
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"But the esoteric nature of Google's tests suggests what a rare set of circumstances we're dealing with here" - This misses the point. Google's tests were esoteric not because they only esoteric test would work, but because only esoteric tests provide a convincing test. In fact, the more esoteric the more convincing they are. If the test had been a search for "Brittany Spears" and if the subsequent results for both sites largely overlapped, it would not be surprising. By making the tests esoteric they removed all doubt that the results were being copied. But the copying is most likely happening for ALL results. This is an embarrassment for MS!

Posted by: washingtonpost68 | February 2, 2011 6:52 AM | Report abuse

GOOG, a company that seeks to profit from news content it had no stake in creating and also wants to copyright every book, is in no position to complain.
I like Bing and use it often. GOOG (or any company) should not have the sole pipeline to search.
BTW, interesting that when MSFT was accused of monopolistic behavior by the feds it was a deathly serious matter. But when Steve Jobs tries similar tactics they are proof of Apple's superiority, "coolness" and elan. How is a closed system, run by anonymous censors, not monopolistic? How is locking people into (or out of) certain software by dint of their hardware choices not impeding trade?
Just askin'.

Posted by: FloridaChick | February 2, 2011 9:07 AM | Report abuse

Shum then criticized Google about online spam, saying, "I think Google, as an industry leader, would be responsible for a lot of spam we receive."
Wait a minute, let me get this straight. What you thought was good timing, well...

Posted by: mastermind7526 | February 2, 2011 9:29 AM | Report abuse

But the commercial said it isn't a search engine! It's a "decision engine!"

I guess a "decision engine" is a lot like a search engine after all.

Posted by: bugmenot | February 2, 2011 10:34 AM | Report abuse

The most irritating part of this whole "search" scenario is that all the companies are continually mining and sharing MY personal information to add to their ridiculous profits. I want to be paid for MY information, rather than letting these internet companies make profits with MY personal information. Of course, because there is no regulation of the internet, there is no privacy for the mere mortal who owns a computer and wants to use the internet.

Posted by: njglea | February 2, 2011 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Hahaha so Bing's great search engine that they advertise is really just them Googling items for you.

Posted by: rderr27 | February 2, 2011 11:21 AM | Report abuse

The takeaway from all this: Internet Explorer is spying on your web search habist and results and reporting them back to Microsoft.

I'm changing browsers as soon as I get home.

Posted by: TheMSMControlsUs | February 2, 2011 12:07 PM | Report abuse

"The takeaway from all this: Internet Explorer is spying on your web search habist and results and reporting them back to Microsoft.

I'm changing browsers as soon as I get home."

Sorry to burst your bubble, but every browser collects information about your web habits and reports them to the people making the browser. The thing to worry about is only which companies you let collect this information, and there are arguably other companies that would do worse with your browser information.

Posted by: minuialear | February 2, 2011 12:32 PM | Report abuse

So it would appear that "Bing" has been re-branding Google searches.

I was OK with this article until the "esoteric" paragraph. Google serving up images from search results does not compare to Microsoft plagarizing search results from other search engines.

While I'm not particularly enamored with Google, in this particular instance they appear to have the comparative moral high ground, if there really is any to be had.

Posted by: dragongild | February 2, 2011 12:50 PM | Report abuse

I seem to get very different results using the same search terms in the two search engines. Anyway, a search engine with an I'm Feeling Lucky button and with Wikipedia hits skewed to the top has a lot of nerve complaining. I agree with njglea.

Posted by: poncedeleroy | February 2, 2011 1:05 PM | Report abuse

@FloridaChick: WTF = Win The Future!

What the heck does comparing Apples to MS have to do with the Google / MS skirmish?

For that matter, in what way is anything you said relevant to the question of how Bing generates search results?

"I like Bing" - might as well have said "I like turtles"

If you like Bing and you dislike Google's practices, but find no offense in MS's practices, while Bing is actually serving up Google results... what does that make you?

3 notches below Fanboy exists the Troll. Somewhere below that are people who make no effort whatsoever to craft an intelligent thought.


OK. Now, if you can't sniff a scintilla of difference in the scope and breadth of the MS monopoly / opportunity for market control VS the bestestest attempts Apple has ever made at the same... then you probably don't have anything meaningful to add. Apple != MS. And likely never will be. As big as they have gotten they just don't have the reach. Love em or hate em.

!= is not equal

Posted by: gconrads | February 2, 2011 1:45 PM | Report abuse

I simply don't see what's wrong in what Bing did (does). They are simply using their user's data (via the toolbar and suggested sites) to improve their search algorithm. I suspect they are doing the same with searches run on via the Bing toolbar. So how's that stealing or copying? If you search for a made up word that Google has ginned up their engine to return results for, it's only logical that those are the only results that Bing can add to its search stew.

Posted by: tundey | February 2, 2011 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Given the fact that worldwide, Google enjoys a search-engine market share of approximately 90 %, while Bing and Yahoo! struggle at about 4 % each
(, perhaps the Microsoft leadership was getting a bit desperate and decided that it was time to take a page out of the market leader's book....


Posted by: mhenriday | February 3, 2011 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Why isn't Bing and Microsoft being investigated by the FBI?

People who use their PC's aren't expecting their personal data to be transmitted to some IE mothership on a second by second basis.

There is a big difference from Googling and knowing that data is used for search and using the IE browser which should be private to my desktop.

Once the Congressmen know that their personal typing is being used by IE for Bing there will be investigations.

I smell criminality on the part of IE and Bing and have already switched to Mozilla for all browsing.

Posted by: hhkeller | February 3, 2011 6:23 PM | Report abuse

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