Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Google's Search Engine Results Sting of 2011

Bing, owned by Microsoft, has recently come under fire after Google released allegations on the 1st of February that a sting operation conducted towards the end of 2010 revealed similar search results between the two engines. Google stated that they are convinced Bing has been copying certain search engine result listings.

The suspicions grew in May 2010 when Google noticed that Bing, without correcting the misspellings, was showing identical search results to those of Google for misspelled search queries. Over the next several months, Google claims that more similarities began to surface within the top 10 listings of the first page. Additionally, Google claims that the percentage of identical listings for the number one position increased also.

Google executed the sting operation by creating synthetic search queries and showing irrelevant pages in the search results when the searches were executed. After enabling the Bing Toolbar and the Suggested Sites tool, engineers at Google began running the synthetic queries and clicking on the result listed in the first position. Ultimately, by doing this, Google was allowing Bing to track their activity. Their theory was that if Bing began to show the same search results they must be copying Google, since the results Google listed were entirely unrelated to the query. The results of the sting were as follows: Bing showed the exact same search result in their number one position as Google for 9% of the synthetic search queries that were created.

Frankly, 9% is not significant enough to convince me that Bing is guilty as charged. And, I am not so sure that monitoring other search engines and websites to incorporate your findings in to your own algorithm is unethical either. I feel as though that kind of user activity is relevant and on some level should influence how Bing decides to show search results.

Finally, Bing has never denied tracking user activity on Google or other sites around the net to gather information to improve their rankings. Harry Shrum, the Corporate Vice President of Bing Development has stated this publicly for some time now. Whether or not this sort of tracking should be legal is another debate, one surely to be had after the recent battle between the search engine king, Google, and their up and coming competitor Bing rages on.

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