Well here’s a juicy little accusation to spice up your Tuesday evening. Google have this afternoon claimed that search rival Bing (run, of course, by Microsoft) have been tracking users interactions with their service through the Bing Toolbar, and stealing the search results for themselves.
This was uncovered in a Google experiment, which has been catchily titled the “Bing Sting”. Google artificially created results pages for around 100 terms that previously had no results in either Google or Bing searches (for the most part strings of random letters or heavily misspelt lengthy words), then had a number of Google employees perform the search in Internet Explorer with the Bing Toolbar installed.
Just over a week later, the same fake results started popping up in Bing, where previously there had been no results at all. Suspicious, I think you’ll agree.
The “sting” came about when a number of metrics used by Google to quantify the quality of their results started showing Bing making big inroads. Upon further inspection Google engineers concluded that Bing must be snooping on Google users behaviour somehow – with IE and the Bing toolbar being the obvious culprits.
For their part, Bing haven’t denied the accusations. They’ve issued a predictably vague PR statement -
“As you might imagine, we use multiple signals and approaches when we think about ranking, but like the rest of the players in this industry, we’re not going to go deep and detailed in how we do it [...] Opt-in programs like the [Bing] toolbar help us with clickstream data, one of many input signals we and other search engines use to help rank sites.”
This news comes at a time when Google search results are under more scrutiny than ever, with many pundits pining for a “new Google” to come along and shake up the search engine space once again. It’s interesting that few complaints have been rendered against Bing’s results – either a sign that their results are better, or that nobody uses the service enough to notice.
To read more on the subject, including the nitty-gritty in-fighting between the two search providers, visit this really quite extensive article on SearchEngineLand.
UPDATE: At a panel event taking place in San Francisco this morning focusing on search engine results, featuring high-ups from both companies, Microsoft’s spokesman at the event came out firing, claiming Google had a vested interest in spam results as many spam sites carry Google Ads. You can read more at Silicon Alley Insider. This has turned into a real slap fight!