Google and Bing - 3 quick points about their spat

 by Martin Belam, 3 February 2011

Three quick things about the highly enjoyable spat between Google & Microsoft over whether Bing has been stealing search results.

1. This isn't the first time a search giant has been accused of 'stealing' info via an installed browser toolbar. Back in the mid-2000s, there were repeated accusations from webmasters that Google was indexing development sites before they had attracted any backlinks at all. The only way, they argued, that Google could have discovered the URL was through looking at the logs of people browsing with the Google toolbar installed, although Matt Cutts tried to debunk that theory in 2008.

2. I have a spreadsheet that compares the results of Google searches restricted to '' to the results you get when you use our site search. It helps me judge the quality of results. Is that stealing?

3. Google has repeatedly argued that crawling, indexing and displaying snippets of other people's content and intellectual property is protected by fair use, and a service for which we should be grateful. If Bing shows snippets of Google's results, why isn't that the same thing? ;-)


Besides, even if Bing does "steal" Google search results, they do it in a way that makes the results useless anyway...

Also, they're not stealing them, whatever Google says ... It's not like they are scraping Google's results and then copying them (which is what I assumed the original accusation was before I read about it).

Bing are using clickthrough data. They are recording what the users click on, not what Google shows. If they're "stealing" anything, they're stealing my clicks.

Oh my god, they are stealing my clicks.

A good point from Malcom - Bing aren't actually scraping the Google results, there simply monitoring click thrus and those just happen to be on Googles results.

Either way the whole thing is rapidly turning into a bit of a PR nightmare for Bing. It must be highly embarrassing for the engineers and top guys there...

It's sneaky, but then so are Google. Google sets cookies in your browsers with very long expiry dates; I've got a couple from them in my browser now with 2021 expiry dates. Google Analytics tracks people around websites, but (provided the outgoing site owner agrees) also uses mechanisms to trace people from site to site. I'm not 100% sure that this is it, but in my logs I get URLs with strings appended like http://(My page url)?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=(my feed ident)&utm_content=Google+Reader with similar ones come from some twitter ad-ons. "__utm" is (I believe) the Google Analytics cookie prefix, presumably their supplied javascript can turn this into useful tracking in the receiving site when it also has Google Analytics.

I think Google's main complaint is that IE is still the most popular browser and Microsoft can do just about anything to it while Google needs to convince people to install either its browser or its toolbar.

Microsoft's problem is that other people have found ways to make money from the web by providing "free" services that enhance the user experience and they want to come to the party late and extract "their share" of that money. They probably see tracking click preferences from searches as simply a means of leveling the playing field.

It's hard to be sympathetic to either of them in this spat but the competition between them encourages both to improve the performance of search engines for the browsing public which seems to be good for me as a user of search engines.

I don't know if Bing is stealing the search results from Google or not, but Google tried to steal the idea of having a customizable background picture from Bing.

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