Microsoft didn't take long to respond to Google's accusations that Bing was copying search results. The company denied the allegations from the get go, though it didn't actually deny that it was using Google search results as a ranking factor for its own.
But perhaps it felt that it wasn't being clear enough, so, after several official responses, Yusuf Mehdi, SVP of Microsoft's Online Services Division, weighed in as well with a clear message "we do not copy results."Google accused Bing of copying its results
, something it says it uncovered using a "honeypot" scheme. Basically, it had some of its engineers search for 100 gibberish keywords using IE8 with the Bing Toolbar installed.
Those keywords previously returned no or very poor results on Bing or Google. But Google artificially altered the ranking for those particular terms. If the same results then appeared on Bing, they could only have come from Google search results.
Sure enough, the same artificially ranked websites started showing up in Bing search results not long after Google started the 'sting' operation. For Google, this was proof enough that Microsoft was stealing its results.
The Redmont giant doesn't agree though. Not only that, it questions Google's motives and suggests that, maybe, Bing is becoming a threat and Google is scared.
"It was interesting to watch the level of protest and feigned outrage from Google. One wonders what brought them to a place where they would level these kinds of accusations," Mehdi writes
"We do not copy results from any of our competitors. Period. Full stop," he stated, to set the record straight.
Of course, directly below this, Mehdi explains how 'everyone' knew that Bing uses clickstream data, provided by its users, for its ranking. Of course, this clickstream data also means any activity on Google search, including the queries and the results that users click on.
This practice may or may not be 'fair,' but it's certainly not illegal. And it's also not exactly copying either. Bing doesn't copy the search results order, instead it looks at what results users prefer.
In most cases, users will prefer the first result, then the second and so on. Google wouldn't be doing its job if they didn't. But, in some cases, Bing Toolbar users might actually prefer the second, third or any other result on Google Search for a particular query in which case the order on Bing would be different even if it were to use only Google data as a ranking signal.
The only thing Google can complain about is the fact that Microsoft is scraping user activity on Google Search, but this is covered by the toolbar terms of agreement and, technically, these users know that Microsoft is tracking their behaviour.
At the same time, though, Microsoft is trying to turn this around and say that all of this proves that Google is scared.
"We have been making steady, quiet progress on core search relevance. In October 2010 we released a series of big, noticeable improvements to Bing’s relevance. So big and noticeable that we are told Google took notice and began to worry. Then a short time later, here come the honeypot attacks. Is the timing purely coincidence?," wonders Mehdi.
In the end, the issue is not as big or as grave as any of the two companies are trying to make it. While everyone enjoys a good public bashing and the battle between Google and Microsoft employees has been keeping Twitter users entertained, perhaps the two companies along with their users and customers would be better off just letting the products do the talking.