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Google says Microsoft Bing copies its search results

Google says Microsoft Bing uses its search results

Cheating says the search engine giant

Amit Singha, a Google Fellow, has posted the search engine giant’s proof on the official Google blog.

In the long post he states that the issue was first noticed when Google did some research into a misspelled query. Analysing the results for ‘torsorphy’ Google correctly identified that this misspelled word should be ‘tarsorrhaphy’ (a rare surgical procedure on eyelids) and game a couple of relevant links. When testing Bing at the same time, no search results or correction options appeared.

However, by the end of summer 2010, Bing had started to return the top two Google hits for ‘torsorphy’, yet provided no correction options. This made Google suspicious, as how could Bing present the correct search results if it didn’t know the word was incorrect?

Switching to detective mode, Google decided to lay a trap by creating around 100 synthetic queries that people wouldn’t type in, such as ‘hiybbprqag’. For each query, Google inserted a real, yet unrelated, website as the first hit. Then 20 Google Engineers using Internet Explorer 8 with the Bing Toolbar installed and Suggested Sites turned on entered the synthetic queries into the Google home page. Within a couple of weeks, Bing had the same search results for the synthetic queries.

“As we see it, this experiment confirms our suspicion that Bing is using some combination of Internet Explorer 8, which can send data to Microsoft via its Suggested Sites feature [and] the Bing Toolbar, which can send data via Microsoft’s Customer Experience Improvement Program,” wrote Singhal.

Microsoft has responded, by saying that Bing uses a variety of different methods to collect search results and that Google’s discovery is only a minor part of

“We use over 1,000 different signals and features in our ranking algorithm. 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,” said Harry Shum, corporate VP of Bing on the Bing Blog.

“To be clear, 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.”

Microsoft has also stated that “we all learn from our collective customers, and we all should”. It certainly has a point on this. After all, using customer experience to improve a product is certainly a good thing generally. It’s difficult to work out whether what Google found is a deliberate attempt by Microsoft to copy search results or more the outcome of automatic routines.

That said, without the context and checking for spelling errors, all Bing is doing is blindly returning results. Admittedly, the synthetic results were designed to make Bing return incorrect search engine results, but in doing so it’s highlighted a flaw with the way that Microsoft deals with some search results.

Still, Google is pretty adamant about what it wants from all of this: “And to those who have asked what we want out of all this, the answer is simple: we’d like for this practice to stop.”

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