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Google catches Microsoft with pants down, copying search results

By

February 1, 2011

Bing has been caught recycling Google search results.

Bing has been caught recycling Google search results.

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Google doesn't have a lot of competition in the search world – it rose from obscurity in the late 1990s to its current position of utter dominance on the back of its clever results ranking algorithm; Google is the megalithic entity it is today, because for the last decade people have chosen its results over MSN, Yahoo and other search options. And now it seems Microsoft's new(ish) search competitor, Bing, is copying Google results in order to make its own search results better. In an embarrassing sting operation, Google claims it has proven that Bing is taking Google search results and displaying them as if they're coming from the Bing engine – and you'd have to imagine the guys at Google are absolutely delighted.

Search team engineers at Google have proven that Microsoft's Bing is watching what people search for at Google, then altering its search results to match Google's.

Google engineers had suspected for some time that Bing was looking over their shoulders – competitive analysis has shown an increasing number of top-10 Google search hits appearing in the Bing top 10, including a very noticeable correlation in #1 hits, but this could be explained away if Bing was operating on a similar search algorithm to Google.

Web search algorithms are incredibly complex. Not only do search engines have to find relevant results based on keyword searches, they also have to filter out spam sites designed to take advantage of search engine traffic, rank how influential and authoritative each result is, and perform a thousand other tweaks to help users get what they're looking for.

One thing Google prides itself on is its ability to correct misspellings in the search box and return valid results for the correctly spelled search term - both for common misspellings and for others that have never been made yet. Type "Gimzag" into Google and straight away you'll receive search results for Gizmag.

And it's this ability to correct for misspellings, and Bing's seeming ability to bring up the same answers not long afterward, that finally gave Google a place to strike.

The sting setup

Google engineers created around 100 bizarre search terms that it reasoned would never be used in an actual search – things like "hiybbprqag" and "mbzrxpgjys" – and wrote some sneaky manual code that pointed these search terms at particular pages.

The search terms didn't appear anywhere on the results pages, so there was nothing but Google's own search results to link these terms with the pages they brought up. So if these results started showing up on Bing, Microsoft would be caught red-handed stealing search results.

The Google engineers then went home, and booted up Internet Explorer with the Bing toolbar installed. They went to Google.com and started searching for the list of false search terms, and clicking on the results they'd planted.

Bing caught recycling Google search results.
Bing caught recycling Google search results.

Sure enough, within two weeks, you could search Bing for "hjybbprqaq" and get Google's planted search result. This didn't work for all the new search terms, but for 7 or 8 of them; enough to prove a point.

What does it mean?

It means that it seems Internet Explorer, its 'Suggested Sites' feature and the Bing Toolbar appear to be watching what you search for at Google.com, then feeding those results back into its own search algorithm.

So if Microsoft's own search algorithm isn't finding the same things as Google, it seems Bing tends to correct itself towards the Google results.

For users, this means that Google can offer a more up-to-date search experience, since it seems to take Bing a few weeks to copy the results and start using them – and for Google, it's quite a PR piece.

Although it's a PR piece that might backfire - after all, in Microsoft's eyes, what Bing is doing is trying to improve the user experience. The toolbar setup is designed to check what people are searching for, see where they clicked through to, and then measure how long they spent on each of those pages, presuming that users will spend more time on relevant pages and less time on pages that shouldn't be ranked so high. And that does seem to be a clever way of helping build search rankings.

Still, it's an interesting spat to watch, and an interesting insight into how our search results are built, and the competitive, innovative environment in Silicon Valley.

About the Author
Loz Blain Loz has been one of Gizmag's most versatile contributors since 2007. Joining the team as a motorcycle specialist, he has since covered everything from medical and military technology to aeronautics, music gear and historical artefacts. Since 2010 he's branched out into photography, video and audio production, and he remains the only Gizmag contributor willing to put his name to a sex toy review. A singer by night, he's often on the road with his a cappella band Suade.   All articles by Loz Blain
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18 Comments

Suggestion for governments : tax the copy-cats, not the innovators !!!

Fouture
2nd February, 2011 @ 04:50 am PST

add to that fake results from torrent and similar sites, which copy your query on their result, as a false promise made to lure you and make you waste a long time searching for something that simply is not there. Like, type "xpto owner's manual" and you will see what I mean.

Aharon
2nd February, 2011 @ 05:06 am PST

BING ??? whats Bing ??? it doesn't even comes close to GOOGLE search engine,

I always thought that this Microsoft guys are thieves,

I am big fan or Google search...

Google guyz keep it up, Please Keep the Hard work going...

Newes HATTTSS OFFF !!! to google guyz....

Rahulrab
2nd February, 2011 @ 05:33 am PST

Remember the Chevy Nova? "No Va" in Spanish meaning "no go". The brilliant people at Microsoft named their search engine after the Chinese word for "sickness". Wow, maybe it was a Freudian slip.

kar
2nd February, 2011 @ 06:35 am PST

Microsoft: A sick culture of knob-heads and technology thieves, captained by a loudmouthed bass. They have had their asses handed to them in China and are calling foul for the very actions they have honed to a fine point - IP theft. If they can't think of it themselves or buy it cheaply, they simply "borrow" from it.

Thank God for Steve Jobs - a real leader with the vision and intestinal fortitude to match his intelligence.

Muraculous
2nd February, 2011 @ 07:20 am PST

Google is the best and always will be.

Facebook User
2nd February, 2011 @ 07:48 am PST

Bing! Bang! Gone.........

Google for me now

Phils stuff
2nd February, 2011 @ 08:09 am PST

Google's miles ahead of Bing.

Try the following queries in both:

Is the world round?

Are strangers bad?

Crime statistics for OX25 1AB

m0thman
2nd February, 2011 @ 09:09 am PST

That's why there's a church of Google!

http://www.thechurchofgoogle.org/

Arvin Buising
2nd February, 2011 @ 09:12 am PST

"The brilliant people at Microsoft named their search engine after the Chinese word for "sickness""

They probably could've avoided that faux pas - if they'd Googled it...

Keith Reeder
2nd February, 2011 @ 09:15 am PST

google copied apple when they see a form factor working, now bing copies google when they see something working. google acts more like a child on a daily basis.

t2af
2nd February, 2011 @ 09:19 am PST

A year ago BING could not even find itself...

If you asked BING to search for BING you never got BING search engine, within the first 3 pages of search results that is...

In a city that I visit often there used to be a office building with a large sign that had proudly read "Microsoft" and now a much bigger sign reads "GOOGLE".

Have they seen the results of polls that asked what OS people want on their smart phone?

Its not Microsoft's OS that's for sure.

When people think search they think Google. Simple.

I remember the first time someone told me to "Google" something I was like "What is that?" now I really cant stand to use anything but Google. It just works so well I get frustrated with the other engines, because they don't work as well or as fast.

Microsoft has lost their focus, and unless they dust off the "business for absolute idiots" book that they read a few bits out of in the past, they will fade away like so many other giants have...

Flint McNamara
2nd February, 2011 @ 02:57 pm PST

Google trumps MS any day, but Google are no saints themselves.

Ask them to stop displaying your competitors adverts in gmail inside your own emails you send to your customers and see how far you get.

Do no evil? LOL!!!

christopher
2nd February, 2011 @ 03:51 pm PST

They all copy each other. Most of the time Google, Yahoo and Bing all come up with exactly the same results.

Facebook User
2nd February, 2011 @ 07:30 pm PST

Hooray for my team! It must be the time for Superbowl 'cause everyone is gathering in their respective camps or granfalloons.

Enough whining about copying or emulating or adapting one another's ideas. We have all done it since time began. We all stand on the shoulders of giants. Every artist takes the ideas of other artists, Boeing and Airbus copy each other's wings and processes, Google docs copies the menu bar and icons from Word, etc., etc.

The real reason for all this rancor is that Bing is evolving, partly through adaptation, into a serious competitor for Google. Google's near monopoly on advertising is being undermined. Soon ads will be cheaper because of competition and Google will have to start a new round of innovation else they become like the Microsoft that took five years to produce Vista. That's the behavior of monopolists, whereas competitors innovate. As the mobile OS world grows, and the Mac OS erodes Window's dominance, MS begins to aggressively compete again and we all win. Note the success of Windows 7 and the inevitable success of WP7.

As a consumer, I welcome this fair and square competition.

abacus_hk
3rd February, 2011 @ 12:06 pm PST

@christopher: if your competitor's ads are showing up in your company's mail, perhaps your own products haven't been made visible enough yet. That's not Google's fault, it's yours! Clearly, you need to adopt better advertising strategies than the ones you're using now. And that's the best case scenario...

The worst case is where said competitor has a better (or better known) product, in which case your customers will be pleased, and you'll have to work even harder.

BoilingOil
3rd February, 2011 @ 11:33 pm PST

When will MS finally learn that we're all on to them? They've been stealing other peoples innovations for decades now...in fact before they started stealing this particular search method from Google, Bing was initially an Accoona concept, then right before Bing launched Accoona mysteriously disappeared:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accoona

seanwilliamthomas
7th February, 2011 @ 09:57 am PST

I won't use any of Microsoft's products. I got tired of all the "BSD's" and trying to keep ahead of all the viruses so I went to LINUX. That during the "XP" era and I have never looked back! My brand is Ubuntu, Gnome is my graphical interface, and thanks to Sun Microsystems, my productivity software is "Office" ;-)

Will, the tink
25th February, 2011 @ 12:32 pm PST
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