Feb 2 2011

Dude, Where’s My Search Results

Google just hit a new low by accusing Microsoft of stealing their search results. This just seems like an unbelievable link bating ploy on part of Google that might have back fired. At first I thought I had read the headline wrong. If I would think of any tech company would air their dirty laundry in a public forum I would have thought it would be on Microsoft’s part.

Here is how this tech “he said, she said” came to be. Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land wrote a blog post where Google acknowledged that it ran a covert Bing sting operation that proved that Microsoft’s Bing’s search results are in some way influenced by what users search for and click on Google’s search engine. This whole secret operation ran by Google reminds me of the HP spying scandal of 2006. Amit Singhal, a Google Fellow in charge of this operation, went on to compare Microsoft Bing’s actions to copying and cheating and other mean evil stuff.

Apparently, all this came about because of misspelled search terms. As Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land describes, Google noticed that Bing’s search result for misspelled terms were similar to Google’s. Over at the official Google blog, Amit Singhal went on to describe the methodology used by Google to prove that Microsoft’s Bing uses Google search results in some capacity. To prove their hypothesis, Google gave engineers Windows’ laptops with Internet Explorer with Bing Toolbar installed and invented crazy words like hiybbprqag that when searched on Google would return completely unrelated search results. These same search results where found in Bing some time later for these made up search queries.

If this is true, this does prove to a high degree of certainty that Microsoft Bing uses, to some capacity Google search results, at least for made up search queries, or “synthetic queries” as Amit Singhal described them. This does not prove that all or 80% or 10% or any significant percent of Microsoft Bing’s results are copied verbatim from Google, as Amit would have you believe. What is also clear but downplayed behind the link bating headlines and accusations is that Bing does not scrape in any scale Google’s search results. In fact, Bing does nothing more than what Google already does. Google has a large number of tools in its arsenal where it collects online traffic and user data no matter what search engine was used. Google is monitoring and tracking the whole web with its search, analytic, ad network, browser, and mobile products and platforms

What I find amusing, is that gall and hypocrisy of Google to accuse Microsoft of monitoring the search terms and queries on search engines and the websites visited from those search results. Every time you search for a term on Google, that is recorded and associated with your account. Every time you click on search result from Google, that is recorded and associated with your account and your search term. If Google collects this data, I am think it might be fair game. Not only does Google collect this the search term and corresponding website you visit, but does the website you visit and their ad network.

I would also question the timing and the motive of publishing this now and this manner. Google has recently come under fire for the spam results taking over their search results and on how they tracks and monitors users’ online activities. It’s widely known that Google collects and uses just about every piece of information it can gather from end users in the development of their products. Google Voice is improved by having millions of users correct Google’s automated voice translations. Improved speech to text translations are then rolled out into other products and projects, such as this speak2tweet Twitter account that transcribes voice messages left on free public phone numbers and tweets them. It is also known that Android, Google’s mobile platform, is a used to improve Google’s local service and I’ve already written about how Google’s Chrome OS laptop will be used to feed even more user data into the Googleplex.

Instead of spending over a half a year on a sting operation of this size and scope they could have better spent their resources. This smells of bad PR to deflect some of the heat Google has been attracting for their spam-ridden search results and privacy issues. Google is just calling the kettle black.

The links below are additional coverage, analysis, and opinions of what one Blogger has dubbed Bing-gate.