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Google has publicly claimed that the Microsoft search engine, Bing, is copying Google’s search results.

According to Google, Microsoft has been keeping track of what people are searching for on Google, and then simply copying the top search results of these queries on Google to improve their own search results.

Google claims that they first noticed that something was amiss, last summer, when a search for a misspelt query (torsorophy) returned the same results on Bing as it did on Google. Only, in the case of Google, the spelling was corrected (tarsorrhaphy), but not on Bing.

To cross check this, Google later set up a “sting operation” where they ran some synthetic queries on unusual search terms that wouldn’t normally be queried by any human, and the top position for these queries, was given as a web page which actually had no connection to the search query whatsoever.

A few days later it was found that Bing also showed the same web page as the top result for that query.

Bing copies Google results for the query ‘hiybbprqag’

This seems to indicate, that Bing is not only keeping tabs on what people are searching for on Google, but are also using Google search results to improve their own.

Google engineers speculate that that this is done either through the Bing Toolbar or the Suggested Sites feature of IE 8. Both of these features collect data from users and return it to Microsoft to improve the user’s search experience.

The Google Toolbar and Chrome browser also collect similar information from Google’s users, but Google claims that this information is not used to improve their search results, which is most probably a lie – search suggestions and clicks from the Google toolbar are almost certainly counted and used to improve organic results.

Microsoft on their part have categorically stated that they “do not copy Google results”. They further explain that Microsoft uses over a 1,000 different signals to create their search algorithm. While features such as the Bing Toolbar and Suggested Sites, do help them to decide their search rankings, it is possible that in the case of rare and unusual queries, as those used in Google’s “sting operation” there may be an overlap of results.

Where Microsoft’s explanation fails, though is in the fact that no human user would have been likely to search for those special search queries before Google set them up. How then did Bing derive the Google results without any historical clicks that were tracked to “improve” their user experience?