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Google And Bing In War Of Words

David Gilbert


Google And Bing In War Of Words

It all started with tarsorrhaphy. No really, the current furore over Google’s accusations that Microsoft's search engine Bing copied its search results – and Microsoft's subsequent denial – all started with tarsorrhaphy.

That’s according to an official Google Blog post this morning anyway where the search giant outlines how it went about setting up a sting operation after it had suspicions regarding Bing’s ability to return search results almost as good as Google’s. It all began in summer 2010 when someone searched for tarsorrrhaphy but misspelled it 'torsorophy'. Google returned the correct spelling with results for the corrected query. At that time, Bing had no results for the misspelling but later in the summer, Bing started returning Google’s first result to their users without offering the spell correction (see screenshots below).

This obviously piqued Google’s interest and they monitored the situation until in October 2010 when it “noticed a significant increase in how often Google’s top search result appeared at the top of Bing’s ranking for a variety of queries.” Even search results that Google would consider mistakes of its algorithms started showing up on Bing. So in great Hollywood fashion Google set about rigging a sting operation to lure in Bing and show up exactly what Google believed they were doing.

They created 100 synthetic queries which would normally be never typed into a search engine, such as 'hiybbprqag', and inserted a real website as Google’s top result. The website had nothing to do with the search term and didn’t appear on the page anywhere. Google then gave 20 of its engineers laptops with Windows installed and using IE8 with a Bing toolbar installed. Within a couple of weeks, Google says it noticed, its inserted results showing up in Bing (see the example below).

When this story first broke though Search Engine Land yesterday, Microsoft replied with a verbose and somewhat ambiguous statement, however Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet looked for further clarification receiving the one sentence response: “We do not copy Google’s results.”

Later in a blog post from Harry Shum, Bing Corporate Vice President, he said Bing uses more than 1,000 different “signals” to create its search algorithm. “To be clear, we learn from all of our customers. What we saw in today’s story was a spy-novelesque stunt to generate extreme outliers in tail query ranking. 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.”

So it seems as if there is going to be no let up in the battle with both sides standing firm and we look forward to what comes next. Oh for all those of you still wondering, tarsorrhaphy is a rare surgical procedure on eyelids. So now you know.

Source: The Official Google Blog and Bing Community Blog


February 2, 2011, 4:57 pm

Microsoft: "Yes, we steal Google's search results to improve ours, but it's no big deal, because we don't ONLY steal Google's results."


February 2, 2011, 5:01 pm

"we use opt-in customer data as one of many inputs to help improve our user experience" - slightly misleading, as it's clearly opt-out, not opt-in - if I recall correctly the check-box is checked by default, and you have to uncheck it yourself if you *don't* want to send all your browsing/search data to MS.


February 2, 2011, 5:34 pm

Sounds like MS were caught red handed.

Brian Carter

February 2, 2011, 5:50 pm

Here's as positive a spin as I can put on it for Microsoft:

It just so happens that Microsoft steal Google results. Users do a search for a term and then click a link, Microsoft then determines that the first link clicked is a good result and updates its own search results.

Alternatively: they steal because it's better.

Could you claim that this is like software piracy? Sure copies were made, but there was no real harm done to people/categories who created the original data because it's not like Microsoft was going to buy the data.

NB: I don't like Microsoft and I hope they get sued for this. I just don't think they will because I'm not sure they've actually broken any laws etc.

Greg Shewan

February 2, 2011, 8:39 pm


Well I suppose the best way to describe what they did is that they cheated? They are copying results after all... maybe not illegal, but I'm sure there is some way the big G can sue them. After all for the rich the law is bendable ;)

Surely they can sue? Those results are garnered from many hours of R&D and the evolution of the search engine, isn't that in some way a violation of Google's IP?


February 2, 2011, 9:45 pm

Microsoft is simply recording the user behaviour (click) after being presented with a list of search results from Google.

Is this really copying Google's results? Not really, it's a weak argument, and that maybe why Google has opted for the "name and shame" approach instead of taking it to court already...

Brian Carter

February 2, 2011, 9:50 pm


I think they may well sue. Lawyers being the winners as per usual. I think they have two objectives from this though. Firstly, to stop Microsoft copying the results and secondly, to point out that Microsoft feels the need to copy their results (ie. google is best).

I'm not sure that there's IP stealing - they haven't stolen how Google got the results, nor are they making requests to Google for information - they're just using information that a user has obtained from Google and adding the choice that the user makes to that information.

I do agree that it's copying, cheating, stealing and is wrong.


February 2, 2011, 10:58 pm

Copying the results of a search, whose results are not clicked on, is not copying user behavior it's copying application behavior.


February 2, 2011, 11:21 pm

@Singulariter as mentioned in the the article, Bing was just using the link that was clicked on.

Google actually had to have people with Internet Explorer and the Bing toolbar clicking on the first link to catch this.

Michael Kilbane

February 7, 2011, 4:40 am

Does anyone care if Bing is copying Google results. I for one don't because I use Google like the rest of the world.

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