Bing and Google get into search slapfight
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 Ask.com 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.
| February 2, 2011; 6:00 AM ET
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