Is looking at your neighbour’s search exam ‘cheating’? Yup

In what the former calls its ‘Bing Sting‘ operation, the search giant says it’s caught Redmond’s search engine Bing copying Google results pages in an attempt to pass ’em off as its own.

Google created 100 fake results for searches based on nonsense words such as ‘hiybbprqag’ and has now gone public with evidence it says proves the same results began to appear on Bing search engine.

Microsoft says it’s all a stunt (good one though, innit?) and in the words of one of its Bing VPs, "We do not copy Google’s search results. We use multiple signals and approaches in ranking search results… 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."

To be specific, Microsoft isn’t denying that it monitors what Google comes up with for a search but that it isn’t cheating. But in the words of one commentator, "Google likens it to the digital equivalent of Bing leaning over during an exam and copying off of Google’s test."

In a long and frankly, very entertaining blog, the Google staffer (see below) who brought the, ahem, scandal, to world attention reports that a search for one of the nonsense terms he’d created on Bing returned a page about seating at a theatre in Los Angeles. "As far as we know the only connection between the query and result is Google’s result page," he writes.

"We noticed that URLs from Google search results would later appear in Bing with increasing frequency," he goes on, before concluding that this data suggests Microsoft was gathering data on what people search for on Google, via either Internet Explorer or the Bing Search toolbar.

"Some Bing results increasingly look like an incomplete, stale version of Google results – a cheap imitation," he thunders.
What it comes down to is that Microsoft has set up the system in such a way that users – you and I – inadvertently do all this by the way we use Internet Explorer, which has been tuned to effectively calibrate Bing results on Google.

This is all down to the Suggested Sites feature, or possibly the Bing toolbar, Google isn’t sure, but the point it’s making is that Bing-based user searches are ending up sending data to Bing on what people search for on Google and the Google search results they click so that those results (from Google) are then more likely to show up on Bing.

This isn’t that serious a crime – it’s not theft of IP or anything nearly like that and we all remember you can’t patent an idea (Internet search), only your expression of it (the Internet ranking algorithm). But it does tell us that Microsoft is, like it or not, running a catch-up campaign here and that Google is still, again, like it or not, the guy to beat.

Bing Sting? Gotta love it. This feller Amit Singhal, the brains behind the "spy novelesque" operation, will be getting a well-deserved raise this year, we reckon.

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