Google Uses ‘Spy-Novelesque Stunt’ to Catch Bing Cheating

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Un-Photoshopped autocomplete.

For years, Google barely had to bother with trifling search engines that dared enter into its terrain. The triumverate just sat back and watched every Cuil, Wolphram Alpha, or Ask.com dubbed a "Google killer" fade into obscurity. But Microsoft's Bing has finally proven itself worthy of Google's attention. Its vengeful, pissed off, self-righteous attention. And no wonder: The latest data shows that Bing's share of the search market was up to 14.4 percent. Make that 29 percent if you count Yahoo, which uses Bing to power its search engine. So last May, when Google noticed that Bing was returning results similar to its own (even when users entered a misspelled word), it stared to get curious. Last October, Bing was showing even greater overlap with Google's top ten results than ever before. "The increases were indicative that Bing had made some change to its search algorithm which was causing its results to be more Google-like," says Search Engine Land. So what's a company with a $195 billion market cap to do? Say something to Microsoft? Complain to the press? Please. It's "don't be evil," not "don't be obsessively sneaky."

No, they set up a sting operation to catch their search engine predator:

For the first time in its history, Google crafted one-time code that would allow it to manually rank a page for a certain term (code that will soon be removed, as described further below). It then created about 100 of what it calls “synthetic” searches, queries that few people, if anyone, would ever enter into Google ...

With the code enabled, Google placed a honeypot page to show up at the top of each synthetic search. The only reason these pages appeared on Google was because Google forced them to be there. There was nothing that made them naturally relevant for these searches. If they started to appeared at Bing after Google, that would mean that Bing took Google’s bait and copied its results.

The results, revealed just in time for a conference about the future of search hosted by Bing today, alleged just that. Onstage, Google’s anti-webspam engineer Matt Cutts accused Microsoft "of copying Google’s results by watching what people search for using the Internet Explorer 8 toolbar and click on at Google.com, and then mimicking those results on Bing.com." Microsoft's response onstage, from Vice-President Harry Shum, went something along the lines of: Meh, so what? "We are collectively using the data to improve the search engine,” Shum said. “Everyone does this, Matt.” But an earlier blog post on the topic was a little more biting:

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.

Honeypots, spy tactics, infuriating statements designed to make Matt Cutts's ears steam — finally something besides censorship and spam to make search interesting.

Google: Bing Is Cheating, Copying Our Search Results [Search Engine Land]
Google Catches Bing Copying; Microsoft Says ‘So What?’ [Wired]