Google Bing sting catches Microsoft copying search engine results

search engine results

A Google sting caught Bing copying Google’s search results by monitoring how Internet Explorer users use Google. Image: CC riddle_/Flickr

Google, having suspected Microsoft’s Bing of copying its search engine results, launched a sting operation. Google caught Microsoft red-handed by inserting artificial top results for certain search queries, which showed up on Bing. Bing didn’t deny the charges and spun an explanation, which included calling Google’s sting a stunt.

Google smells a rat

Google began suspecting that Bing was copying its search engine results last spring. When users would enter unique misspellings into search queries, Bing would list the same sites that appeared on Google. Google searched for the correct spelling, but even though Bing listed the same result, the spelling was not corrected. Smelling a rat, Google set a trap. About 100 synthetic searches were created with “honeypot” pages as the top result that would only show up on Google if Bing wasn’t copying them. Google engineers ran the synthetic queries at home using Internet Explorer with Suggested Sites and the Bing Toolbar enabled and clicked on the results.

Google springs the trap

Before Google launched the Bing sting on Dec. 17, the synthetic searches came up nil or with a smattering of junk pages. Then Google made a manual change, so that a specific page would appear at the top of these searches. Google inserted honeypot pages so they would rank first in the synthetic searches, even though they weren’t relevant. By Dec. 31 the honeypot pages began showing up as top ranked pages on Bing.

Bing, caught cheating, calls sting a stunt

Google’s Bing sting firmly implies that Bing was copying Google’s results by monitoring how Internet Explorer users use Google. In a blog post, Harry Shum, a Bing corporate vice president, called Google’s sting a “spy-novelesque stunt.” He said it misconstrues how Microsoft uses customer data to “improve our user experience.” Amit Singhal, who oversees Google’s search ranking algorithm, told Search Engine Land that Bing’s blatant copying was “plain and simple cheating,” and equated it to “running a marathon and carrying someone else on your back, who jumps off just before the finish line.”


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