Google: Yes, Microsoft Copies Our Search Results

Google says Microsoft cheated by aping its search results. Microsoft disagreed with that term, but acknowledged using customer data to improve results. Pundits weigh in.

Google Feb. 1 capped a public smear campaign that backfired by claiming that Microsoft's Bing team is indeed cheating by copying its results for some Web search queries.

Google last summer looked at the search results for an unusual misspelled query, torsorophy. Google returned the correct spelling -- tarsorrhaphy -- along with results for the corrected query.

While Bing had no results for the misspelling at the time, Bing later started returning the same first result -- from Wikipedia -- to users without offering the spell correction, as Google shows in these screenshots.

After finding several more examples where Bing surfaced similar results, Google expanded its investigation by faking 100 queries and giving 20 engineers laptops with a fresh install of Microsoft Windows running Internet Explorer 8 with Bing Toolbar installed. These test subjects enabled IE8's Suggested Sites feature.

These engineers entered the synthetic queries into the search box on the Google home page and clicked on the results, only to find the faked results surface on Bing later.

"Bing results increasingly look like an incomplete, stale version of Google results -- a cheap imitation," Google Fellow Amit Singhal wrote in a blog post. "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."

The public firestorm started Feb. 1 with Search Engine Land's post on the issue, then continued a few hours later when Cutts confronted Microsoft Bing Vice President Harry Shum over the issue during a Bing-sponsored search roundtable.

The discussion didn't get resolved very much. Cutts accused Bing of copying Google search results using some combination of Internet Explorer 8, which can send data to Microsoft via its Suggested Sites feature and the Bing Toolbar.

Shum, who acknowledged gleaning customer data like any other good search engine, denied copying Google results and called examples of results that appeared to mimic Google's outliers. Cutts wasn't sold and Singhal later published the aforementioned blog post with screenshots.

Whether Google proved Bing cheated or copied its results is irrelevant for the media, which is looking aghast at a company with a 66.6 percent search market share complaining that a rival with 12 percent market share isn't playing fair.

Some believe Google is embarrassed and annoyed by the recent exposure of its search engine being loaded with spammy results. Microsoft's public relations team believes "Google wants to change subject because they're under investigation in the US and Europe for manipulating search results."

These two reasons seem flimsy for a company with such market dominance.

However, Google could be getting back at Microsoft because, as company officials have told eWEEK privately, it believes the software giant has done all it can to put U.S. and European government regulators on its tail for abusing antitrust laws with its search engine.

We also know that Google has a history of beingaccused of copying things, from successfully appropriating Overture's business model a decade ago, to Java code for its Android platform of late.

That is to say, this latest Google versus Microsoft skirmish may be one big case of pot meeting the kettle over the color black.