Google accusing Bing of copying its Web-search results, blogged a Microsoft executive Feb. 2, is possibly motivated by the search-engine giant's fears of losing ground to its upstart rival.
"We do not copy results from any of our competitors. Period. Full stop," Yusuf Mehdi, senior vice president of Microsoft's online services division, wrote on the Bing Community blog. "We have some of the best minds in the world at work on search quality and relevance, and for a competitor to accuse any of these people of such activity is just insulting."
In a widely circulated Feb. 1 posting, the blog Search Engine Land detailed what it called the "sting operation" against Bing, which apparently began after Google executives grew suspicious of how closely some of Bing's search results mirrored their own. After finding terms with no matches on either search engine, the company apparently created "honey pot" pages that appeared on top of search results for those terms. When a small portion of Bing search results seemed to mirror Google's forced pages, the latter began leveling accusations.
"Our testing has concluded that Bing is copying Google Web-search results, and Microsoft doesn't deny this," Amit Singhal, a Google Fellow, wrote in a Feb. 1 e-mail to eWEEK. "At Google, we strongly believe in innovation and are proud of our search quality. We look forward to competing with genuinely new search algorithms out there, from Bing and others-algorithms built on core innovation, and not on recycled search results copied from a competitor."
The sniping continued into the Feb. 1 roundtable discussion at the Farsight Summit, where Microsoft Corporate Vice President Harry Shum and Google Principal Engineer Matt Cutts seemed determined to verbally shred one another into bite-sized pieces.
"It's almost like a map maker who constructs a fake street and sees if that street gets copied," is how Cutts described Google's operation to the audience.
But Shum seemed unwilling to accept the accusations. "It's not like we actually copy anything; it's more that we learn from the customers who willingly share data with us," he shot back, "where we actually learn from the customers from what kind of queries they type." Bing Bar and similar features are capable of feeding that sort of data to Microsoft.
In his blog posting, Mehdi reiterated Shum's argument.
"In simple terms, Google's -experiment' was rigged to manipulate Bing search results through a type of attack also known as -click fraud,'" he wrote. "As we have said before and again in this post, we use clickstream optionally provided by consumers in an anonymous fashion as one of 1,000 signals to try and determine whether a site might make sense to be in our index."
But why would Google go to such lengths? Mehdi has the answer-or at least some deliberately leading questions.
"In October 2010, we released a series of big, noticeable improvements to Bing's relevance. So big and noticeable that we are told Google took notice and began to worry," he wrote. "Then, a short time later, here come the honey-pot attacks. Is the timing purely coincidence? Are industry discussions about search quality to be ignored? Is this simply a response to the fact that some people in the industry are beginning to ask whether Bing is as good or in some cases better than Google on core Web relevance?"
According to research firm comScore, Bing's share of the U.S. search market stood at 12 percent in December 2010, well behind Google's 66.6 percent. Yahoo stood at 16 percent, although Bing powers its back-end search. Even with Yahoo's share combined into Microsoft's, though, Bing's audience remains half that of Google. But Microsoft seems willing to lose millions of dollars per quarter backing its online efforts, and Bing continues to make slight but steady gains in quarterly market share.