Google “Bing sting” catches Microsoft copying search results

How does a company like Microsoft overhaul their search engine and quickly come up with a product like Bing to compete with Google’s long-standing and highly successful search product? Google says that Bing has been copying their search results, and actually set a trap to catch the competing search engine in the act.

The results of that trap have been published in an article by Danny Sullivan over at Search Engine Land this morning, and the evidence collected against Microsoft looks rather damning.

Google "Bing sting" catches Microsoft copying search results

The test scenarios consisted of several search terms and customized results that Google had purposely altered to form a search/result combination unique to their engine. There was no way the results could have been returned naturally in a Bing search. For example, Bing would somehow pick up results for misspelled terms that Google had planted, though they did not have the built-in corrections that Google had engineered. Additionally, Google planted some highly unlikely results for specific search terms, and low and behold, Bing would somehow subsequently start showing those same results.

“I’ve spent my career in pursuit of a good search engine,” says Google employee Amit Singhal, who oversees the company’s search ranking algorithm, told Sullivan. “I’ve got no problem with a competitor developing an innovative algorithm. But copying is not innovation, in my book.”

But Microsoft doesn’t seem to think that what they have done should be looked down upon.

“What we saw in today’s story was a spy-novelesque stunt to generate extreme outliers in tail query ranking,” Harry Shum, Bing’s Corporate Vice President wrote in a post on his company’s blog Tuesday morning. “It was a creative tactic by a competitor, and we’ll take it as a back-handed compliment. But it doesn’t accurately portray how we use opt-in customer data as one of many inputs to help improve our user experience.”

“We use over 1,000 different signals and features in our ranking algorithm,” Shum explained. “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.”

That sounds like a lovely explanation from Microsoft, however I question that there was even one anonymous user out there that would have used the Google-planted keyword “tarsorrhaphy” for any reason. And suddenly a Microsoft-monitored individual just happened to type “indoswiftjobinproduction” or “mbzrxpgjys” while Google was performing this test? Not likely, in my opinion.

There may be a landmark infringement lawsuit brewing here. Microsoft better start thinking of some better excuses, otherwise the future of their Bing search product may very well be at stake.

Google also published a blog post in response to this situation.