Google, Bing Battle, Windows Phone Data Drain Marked Microsoft Week

Microsoft's week was marked by its battle with Google over Bing Web search, Nokia rumors and a resolution to Windows Phone 7's mysterious "data drain" for some users.

Microsoft's relationship with Google, never the most copacetic, went a bit nuclear this week.

The tussle began Feb. 1, when the blog Search Engine Land published details of what it called Google's "sting operation" against Bing. Google executives claim they grew suspicious of how closely Bing's search results mirrored their own, and, after finding terms with no matches on either search engine, created "honey pot" pages that appeared on the 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 email 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."

During a Feb. 1 roundtable discussion at the Farsight Summit, Microsoft Corporate Vice President Harry Shum defended Bing's practices. "it's not like we actually copy anything; it's more that we learn from the customers who willingly share data with us," he told Google Principal Engineer Matt Cutts, who was sitting beside him, "where we actually learn from the customers from what kind of queries they type."

Over the next few days, Microsoft continued that line of defense, claiming that user applications such as the Bing Bar were feeding voluminous clickstream data-including Google search terms-into Bing. "In simple terms, Google's -experiment' was rigged to manipulate Bing search results through a type of attack known as -click fraud,'" Yusuf Mehdi, senior vice president of Microsoft's online services division, wrote in a Feb. 2 posting on the Bing Community blog. "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."

Mehdi also hinted that Google might have ulterior motives behind its operation. "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?"

Should Google worry? 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 if you combine its share into Bing's, however, the audience for Microsoft's search engine remains half that of Google. Meanwhile, Microsoft continues to spend-and lose-hundreds of millions of dollars per quarter on its online initiatives. Nonetheless, Bing has experienced slow but steady growth since its inception; and Google executives-defending themselves from periodic accusations of having a monopoly-often refer to online search as a game whose parameters and dominant player could change quickly.

Microsoft also crossed swords with another online entity this week. On Jan. 31, Microsoft officially confirmed what it termed an "inefficiency" in the "synchronization of e-mail between the Windows Phone Mail client and Yahoo! mail," which is the company's way of saying it blamed a "data drain" bug affecting Windows Phone 7 devices on Yahoo's mail client. A small subset of Windows Phone 7 users had been complaining their smartphones devoured data even when not running applications or cruising the Web, to the tune of 30MB to 50MB within a 24-hour period in some cases.

But Yahoo seemed to balk at that characterization.

"Yahoo! mail is widely available on tens of millions of mobile phones, including those running on Apple iOS, Android, Nokia Symbian and RIM," read a Yahoo spokesperson's Feb. 1 email to eWEEK. "The issue on the Windows Phones is specific to how Microsoft chose to implement IMAP for Yahoo! mail and does not impact Yahoo! mail on these other mobile devices."

Microsoft is also planning a smartphone software update that will address a separate issue related to Exchange ActiveSync e-mail synchronization. Other updates, reportedly scheduled to arrive in coming weeks, will tweak application-loading speed and introduce a cut-and-paste feature.

Rumors are also circulating that Nokia, another collaborator-backslash-competitor, is considering porting Windows Phone 7 onto its hardware.