The search giant alleges that Microsoft has been using its Internet Explorer web browser and the Bing Search bar to harvest information on Google users, according to a lengthy report by Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land. Amit Singhal, a Google Fellow who oversees the search engine’s ranking algorithm, was crystal clear about the findings.
“Our testing has concluded that Bing is copying Google web search results,” Singhal told FoxNews.com.
It’s a serious allegation from the world’s most popular search engine, a company that takes pride in the quality of its product.
"I've spent my career in pursuit of a good search engine," Singhal told Search Engine Land. "I've got no problem with a competitor developing an innovative algorithm. But copying is not innovation, in my book."
Bing, although denying that they outright copy results, and has all but admitted the claim. Director of Bing Stefan Weitz told FoxNews.com that the strategy is one of many that Microsoft uses to provide the best search results.
“We use multiple signals and approaches in ranking search results,” Weitz said. “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.”
Harry Shum, corporate vice president at Bing, spoke at a company event Tuesday, furthering these sentiments. “It’s not like we actually copy anything,” Shum said at the event. He claimed that competitors such as Google employ similar tactics. “We use the customer data to help improve the search experience.”
Google is understandably vexed. The company grew wary of potential copycats in October 2010 when engineers noticed that bizarre misspellings were returning the same set of results on both Google and Bing searches.
Unsure, but suspicious, Google set up a trap. From December 17 to December 31, engineers inserted a “honeypot” result as the top result for specific search queries -- including, hiybbprqag, mbzrxpgiys, and indoswiftjobinproduction -- and waited to see if the same results would appear on Bing. Lo and behold, the identical results popped up.
"It's cheating to me because we work incredibly hard and have done so for years -- but they just get there based on our hard work,” a frustrated Singhal told Sullivan. “I don't know how else to call it but plain and simple cheating. Another analogy is that it's like running a marathon and carrying someone else on your back, who jumps off just before the finish line."
On the official Bing blog, Shum called the Google ploy a “spy-novelesque stunt,” a “creative tactic by a competitor, that Bing was actually taking as a back-handed compliment.”
“It doesn’t accurately portray how we use opt-in customer data as one of many inputs to help improve our user experience,” Shum wrote.
It's difficult to say how this discovery will affect the search experience for consumers, Sullivan told FoxNews.com, because we really don't know the extent of Bing's usage of Google data.
”It potentially makes the search engines more the same,” he allowed, “and my gut feeling is that we want them to have some differentiation. That's because being more Google-like isn't a guarantee that you're necessarily improving results.”