Google officials are accusing Microsoft's Bing of "copying" their Web-search results.
"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."
Singhal's e-mail came after a Feb. 1 posting on the blog Search Engine Land, which details a Google "sting operation" into Bing's alleged scrutiny of Google searches. "As a result of the apparent monitoring, Bing's relevancy is potentially improving (or getting worse) on the back of Google's own work," the blog's Danny Sullivan wrote in that posting. "Google likens it to the digital equivalent of Bing leaning over during an exam and copying off of Google's test."
Search Engine Land's story appeared just as Microsoft gears up for a high-profile event on the future of search, scheduled for 1 p.m. EST. That event, billed as "Bing Presents Farsight 2011: Beyond the Search Box," was supposed to feature a roundtable discussion with Singhal, Microsoft Corporate Vice President Harry Shum, and Blekko co-founder and CEO Rich Skrenta.
Meanwhile, a Microsoft executive's statement to Search Engine Land suggests Google has some influence on Bing's search process.
"We use multiple signals and approaches when we think about ranking, but like the rest of the players in this industry, we're not going to go deep and detailed in how we do it," Stefan Weitz, director of Bing Search, wrote in a Jan. 31 statement to Search Engine Land. "Opt-in programs like the [Bing] toolbar help us with clickstream data, one of many input signals we and other search engines use to help rank sites. This -Google experiment' seems like a hack to confuse and manipulate some of those signals."
In a statement e-mailed to eWEEK Feb. 1, a Microsoft spokesperson echoed Weitz's language.
"We use multiple signals and approaches in ranking search results," read that statement. "The overarching goal is to do a better job determining the intent of the search so we can provide the most relevant answer to a given query. Opt-in programs like the toolbar help us with clickstream data, one of many input signals we and other search engines use to help rank sites."
Google's "experiment" involved finding terms with no matches on Google or Bing, and then artificially forcing "honeypot" pages to appear on the top of search results for those terms. "The only reason these pages appeared on Google was because Google forced them to be there," Sullivan wrote. "If they started to [appear] at Bing after Google, that would mean that Bing took Google's bait and copied its results."
A few weeks later, only a small number of Bing search results-seven to nine out of 100-seemed to mirror Google's forced pages. "Google says it doesn't know why they didn't all work, but even having a few appear was enough to convince the company that Bing was copying its results," Sullivan added. "In cases where there are no signals other than how Google ranks things, such as with the synthetic queries that Google tested, then the Google -signal' may come through much more."
In an e-mail sent at noon Feb. 1, a Google spokesperson hinted that Singhal will not be attending Microsoft's roundtable but that Matt Cutts, Google principal engineer, would.