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Amit Singhal, a Google fellow and engineer, has written an extraordinary blog post on the company’s official blog spelling out how it caught out rival search engine Bing stealing its search results.
“Some Bing results increasingly look like an incomplete, stale version of Google results — a cheap imitation,” wrote Singhal.
“We would like this practice to stop,” he wrote. “We look forward to competing with genuinely new search algorithms out there—algorithms built on core innovation, and not on recycled search results from a competitor.”
Google had noted that in the summer of 2010 Bing did not return any results for a misspelled search for the surgical eye procedure “tarsorrhaphy”.
“Later in the summer, Bing started returning our first result to their users without offering the spell correction,” Singhal said. “This was very strange.”
The experiment was repeated with nonsensical searches, including “hiybbprqag,” “delhipublicschool40 chdjob,” and “juegosdeben1ogrande,” which Google had designed to produce one result. Bing offered the same result, Google said.
But Microsoft argued its search was different.
“What we saw in today’s story was a spy-novelesque stunt to generate extreme outliers in tail query ranking,” said Bing corporate vice president Harry Shum in an official blog post.
“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.”
“We use over 1,000 different signals and features in our ranking algorithm,” adding that some of those features include data from users who agree to share anonymous data “as they navigate the web in order to help us improve the experience for all users.”
“We all learn from our collective customers, and we all should,” he said.
Danny Sullivan writes in Search Engine Land that Singhal was “hesitant” to call Bing’s alleged actions illegal because Google technically had not lost anything. The search engine still owns its results, even though Bing may be copying them.
It may be a case of cheating, or as Sullivan writes: “You could say it’s incredibly clever”.
“Why not mine what people are selecting as the top results on Google as a signal? It’s kind of smart. Indeed, I’m pretty sure we’ve had various small services in the past that have offered for people to bookmark their top choices from various search engines.”
Google obviously doesn’t see it as clever. The company is an innovator at heart and a true original. In recent times, Microsoft has made its mark in the world by copying others’ innovations and then beating them at their game. Their CEO Steve Ballmer, in one of his frenetic presentations, famously said something to the effect that: “We’ll copy what others do and then do it better”.