Google has long prided themselves on having the best spelling corrector of any search engine, but when the same results started popping up at the top of misspelled Bing searches as on their own site, Google engineers started growing suspicious.
To figure out exactly what was going on, Google used a bit of code to manually alter their search algorithm, matching a few jumbles of letters to a couple of obscure or unrelated websites.
The results tell all: Microsoft uses Internet Explorer to monitor what users search for on Google, the results they choose, and uses that data to refine Bing’s searches.
In a statement to Search Engine Land, Stefan Weitz, the director of Microsoft’s Bing search engine seems to confirm the allegation:
“As you might imagine, we use multiple signals and approaches when we think about ranking, but like the rest of the players in this industry, we’re not going to go deep and detailed in how we do it. Clearly, the overarching goal is to do a better job determining the intent of the search, so we can guess at the best and most relevant answer to a given query.
“Opt-in programs like the [Bing] toolbar help us with clickstream data, one of many input signals we and other search engines use to help rank sites. This “Google experiment” seems like a hack to confuse and manipulate some of these signals.”
While it’s not technically illegal and it’s definitely not a far throw from some of Microsoft’s actions in the past, Google engineers say it’s not fair.
“It’s cheating to me because we work incredibly hard and have done so for years but they just get there based on our hard work,” says Google Fellow Amit Singhal. “I don’t know how else to call it but plain and simple cheating. Another analogy is that it’s like running a marathon and carrying someone else on your back, who jumps off just before the finish line.”