February 01, 2011

My Take on "Google Accuses Bing of 'Stealing' Google Search Results"

Blog Update (February 2, 2011): Google, Bing, and "Darth Toolbar"

Greetings. An interesting story has broken today, with Google essentially accusing Bing of "poaching" or "stealing" Google users' search results.

I can't spend as much time on this today as I'd like, due to another priority, but since a number of people have already asked me about the issue I'll say the following for now.

The gist of the story appears to be that particular Google search results for "long-tail," misspelled, or just plain "wacky" searches are ending up in Bing, apparently via users exposing those Google searches to Bing through IE/Bing suggestion/toolbar mechanisms.

Google conducted a search results "sting" to demonstrate this effect.

Bing says that there's absolutely nothing wrong with what they're doing, and that such user activity, by voluntary IE/Bing Toolbar, etc. users, is a valid input signal into Bing search results algorithms.

A detailed write-up on this story is here.

and information regarding Bing's response is here.

I might note that it has long been common for database and map makers to "seed" their products with occasional fake entries to help detect mass copying by competitors.

But in the case of Google's sting operation, Google engineers themselves apparently entered the "sting" search terms through the toolbars, which alters the overall scenario considerably.

My initial reaction to this situation is that while Bing's practice seems to be quite slimy, it may be harder to make the case that it is necessarily illicit per se. After all, these sorts of toolbars and related mechanisms (not just related to Bing) primarily exist to a certain extent to provide broad data about user behavior (often above and beyond the use of particular search engines) as signals to the firms providing the toolbars. As such, they routinely blur the line between the users' interactions with a range of sites in a wide array of contexts.

So perhaps the primary focus needs to be on these toolbar systems that have evolved far beyond their original designs, and that may now intrinsically encourage the "cross-fertilization" of user activity data across various search engines and other Web sites.

More later.


Blog Update (February 2, 2011): Google, Bing, and "Darth Toolbar"

Posted by Lauren at February 1, 2011 01:33 PM | Permalink
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