I believe an aggregation of the relevant discussions on this subject will help clear some questions and shed some light onto how Microsoft’s search engine Bing has been using Google search engine results. In this article I’ll cover the following topics:

How Google found out that Bing was copying it’s search results

This has been covered already by quite a few articles therefore I won’t go into any technical details. My objective is to give a concise demonstration of what Google did to confirm its suspicions towards Bing and how this experimentation strongly suggests that Bing copies other search engine’s results. If you want the full articles I used as sources of information on this topic, consult the following pages:

  • Matt Cutts blog post “My thoughts on this week’s debate”
  • Official Google blog post on how “Bing uses Google search results”

It all started with one of Google’s well known features “Spelling correction”. This feature is activated when Google believes that the queried search term is misspelled. It has two main functions:

  • It proposes what Google believes is the correct spelling of the term.
  • It shows the first few results using the correct spelling, followed by the results with the currently misspelled term.

As illustrated below:

How Google corrects misspelled search queries

What pulled the flag on Bing was when engineers at Google noticed that Bing was returning (for a misspelled search term) the same results that Google would propose on a “corrected” version of the search query, without correcting the misspelling.

After that discovery the Google search team conducted a small experiment. They manually created false search results for 100 very rare and unusual search queries; each of these queries would return a unique result which had nothing to do with the query itself.

Once that was online, Google gave 20 of their search engineers a laptop with a fresh installation of windows XP with Internet Explorer 8 and the Bing toolbar, all with default settings. They were asked to conduct searches on these terms for the next few days and to click on the first result Google would give them.

Roughly two weeks later, Bing started showing the same results on some of the same queries.

This gave sufficient proof that Bing was indeed copying and using Google search results to improve the quality of its own results.

How Bing copies Google search results

Two main suspects have been pointed out on how Bing managed to use and copy Google’s search results: Internet Explorer’s “Suggested Sites” and the “Bing toolbar”.

Suggest Sites: this functionality will send information to Microsoft on your internet usage, which includes (but is not limited to) the URLs of websites you have visited. When using a search engine (such as Google) the URL also contains the terms you queried. From there, two possibilities also arise: either Bing also tracks elements on which users click, such as search results, or it associates search engine URLs and the following URL to build a match.

Bing toolbar: I’ll start off by saying I am a hater of all Internet Explorer toolbars. Now I’ll be objective. By default the Bing toolbar is set to “Improve your online experience by allowing [Microsoft] to collect additional information about your system configuration, the searches you do, the websites you visit on how you use [Microsoft’s] software. [Microsoft] will also use this information to improve their products and services.”

The default settings on Internet Explorer 8 and 9 are quite misleading in appearance. If we take the “suggested sites” example, unless you read the privacy policy (very few people actually do), you won’t know about Microsoft retrieving and using information on your internet usage. The following article will allow you to learn more on how to stop Internet Explorer from spying on you.

What this all comes down to

Many known names have pronounced themselves on the matter: Matt Cutts and Danny Sullivan. The consensus is split into two divisions: People from Google and independent to Google and Microsoft, and people from Bing.

Bing representatives initially denied using the information, and afterwards corrected their statements once irrefutable proof had been collected by Google. However they still stick to saying that the information gathered is only “one of a thousand elements considered in our search algorithm”.

Matt Cutts provided an interesting reply to the statement, so I’ll quote him: If clicks on Google really account for only 1/1000th (or some other trivial fraction) of Microsoft’s relevancy, why not just stop using those clicks and reduce the negative coverage and perception of this? And if Microsoft is unwilling to stop incorporating Google’s clicks in Bing’s rankings, doesn’t that argue that Google’s clicks account for much more than 1/1000th of Bing’s rankings?

Most people feel that Bing is “cheating” its way to a better search by using Google’s hard work. Personally I believe this smells like a typical Microsoft habit.