Is Bing Cheating?

Finger-pointing is all the rage in the escalating battle between Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) and Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Bing.

Google engineers have approached SearchEngineLand.com to show that Bing is actually copying Big G's search results in some cases.

In an operation that some are starting to call Bing Sting, Google engineers planted a fake page into obscure queries that neither engine had results for. Shortly thereafter, the same links began appearing on many of Bing's pages.

Google's curiosity was initially stoked when misspelled entries on its own engine began spitting out the same top links on Bing. Big G figured that Microsoft was somehow spying on Google searches to beef up its own results, so the Bing Sting was set into action.

The theory says that Microsoft is keeping tabs of Google.com through either Bing's toolbar or Internet Explorer's "suggested sites" tracking feature. In theory, Bing can out-Google Google by tracking the links that searchers ultimately click on in their queries.

Is this legal? Is this ethical? Is Bing even guilty? We've only heard one side of the sting operation.

Even if it's on the up and up, Bing's reputation may take a hit. Microsoft has spent lavishly on a marketing campaign to set itself apart from Google. How ironic would it be if positioning Bing as a "decision engine" means basing it on the decision of Google.com searches? Then again, if it's leaning on the world's leading search engine to generate superior results, won't consumers gravitate to the engine standing on the shoulder of giants?

The timing of the findings can't be a coincidence. Bing is hosting a search industry event tonight. Tripping Bing up before it gains more momentum is a sound tactical extension of its tech-savvy.

The industry is changing. AOL (NYSE: AOL  ) , Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) , and IAC's (Nasdaq: IACI  ) Ask.com are either outsourcing their search results or have repositioned their portals. This leaves Bing -- which now also powers search queries through Yahoo! -- in an important position as the alternative to Google.

Having two strong competing engines is a good thing. When Google took a step back in China last year, critics feared that it would make Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU  ) too powerful and slow the Web's development in China. That doesn't appear to have happened, but it's still too early to tell.

Bing can't afford to fall behind. It's already under criticism for its monetization prowess. Yahoo! alluded to Bing's weak ad matching in its latest quarter. Local.com (Nasdaq: LOCM  ) shares plunged 25% last month after it blamed Bing in lowering its guidance.

Say it ain't so, Bing.

What do you think of Bing's search engine? What are you expecting out of Microsoft in this week's quarterly report? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Google and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Baidu and Google are Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendations. Yahoo! is a Motley Fool Global Gains selection. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of Google and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been impressed by Bing over the past year. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2011, at 8:58 AM, jaketen2001 wrote:

    Of course Bing is cheating. This has been MSFT protocol for the last 20 years. Miss boat. Backward engineer boat. Put out cruddy version of boat.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2011, at 9:45 AM, 2foolno1 wrote:

    To call Bing a cheat is rather like referring to a fund of hedge funds as a direct investment vehicle.

    Surely Bing should be congratulated for emulating nature.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2011, at 10:35 AM, don1941t wrote:

    There is no real story here. If you actually read the "terms of use" (TOU) when you install a toolbar for your browser, there is a little phrase there that says something like "send anonymous feedback about your use of the toolbar to help us improve our products and services" that is activated by a checkbox at install. Toolbars hook into your browser and watch EVERYTHING that you type into any nput field in your browser and look at EVERY url you browse. For bing, that means they are watching to see what you search for and what pages you visit. And they use this to improve your search experience. Since someone searched for an obscure term and then visited a page, bing can logically assume that there is interest in both the term and the browsed destination and improves their results for future uses of that term.

    In most cases, this information is not stored in a way that ties identifies a particular user so bing is not "spying" on any particular user.

    This behaviour is not new. Bing learned this trick from (gasp!) the google toolbar that inspired the "search box" feature popular in all browsers.

    What WOULD be a story is if someone had proof that a particular toolbar was sending data back home even though the TOU option was either not specifically called out or was the user opted out of having data sent.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2011, at 10:49 AM, techy46 wrote:

    LOL - Cheating says Google. The utopian socialist regime calls the ultimate capitalists cheaters. Google copies copys Linux and Java and calls it Android, comes out with a bootable Web browser and calls it Chrome OS. Hocky puck. I stopped using Google to get rid of all the pushing and phishing the crappy bunch of imposters promotes. Billions of $$$ for clicks? What a bunch of rip off artists. Google runs around the internet every night violating every copyright law in existance and accuses Microsoft of cheating. I say to hell with Google.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2011, at 2:13 PM, BuyemHoldem wrote:

    YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY CORRECT tech46!!! I stopped using google too for the same reasons. and for you users that have less than 20 years of computer experience, if wasn't for MSFT every hardware manufacturer would still have their own OS that wouldn't talk to any other OS. wake up rookies... GOOG is a far bigger crook than MSFT ever thought of being. it's like comparing Bernie Madoff to Al Capone.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2011, at 5:47 PM, TMFBent wrote:

    "In theory, Bing can out-Google Google by tracking the links that searchers ultimately click on in their queries."

    Well, that's not really what they're doing. They're trying to create their own set of search results, and considering what happens when lots of people click through on random junk at Google is one of the inputs they use. They've made no secret of this at all.

    Funnier yet, the way Google tries to make 7 out of 100 strange outliers into wholesale "copying" or "cheating." Think about the craziness of this "sting" for a moment and you should be surprised that more of them didn't show up.

    Google was baiting Bing by having engineers send goofy data to bing on random text strings, linking them to web sites. After a while, a mere 6 or 7 out of 100 of these eventually filter up into Bing results. Why? (Because the random strings don't really have any real destination, and if Google is providing a link that lots of clickers find useful, Bing's algoritm assumes that must be meaningful, and incorporates that data -- sometimes.)

    This is simply a smart way to deal with it.

    Those who cry "unfair" are either Google fanbois, disingenuous, or completely naive about how businesses work -- including Google.

    I asked a GE turbine engineer if they would look at what Rolls is doing with jet engines, and incorporate those best practices into their work, or whether they would defer because it's "unfair."

    He nearly laughed his soda out his nose.

    This was a cheap stunt by Google, and I'd argue it shows they're worried. Bing's search results are great. Its interface is nicer. Its mapping service (especially on mobile) has been killing Google's for years -- so much so that Google has been copying Bing Maps features for quite a while.

    Finally, Google isn't arguing from a very strong position on the "unfairness" of copying ideas. Google's entire business model is built on leeching the work of others on the internet, and selling the summary data to others. It's phone OS is an iPhone clone. It has attempted to leverage its giant user base to promote sub-par clones of: facebook, paypal, twitter, and other services. It failed to defeat youtube, and then just bought it, IMO, because it thought the networks would collapse under the sheer volume of pirated videos that flowed into that site and made it what it was-- letting Google monetize all that stolen content.

    But hey, since it's Google, copying (or the refusal to stop it) is just fine...

    Google is a ruthless business with slippery ethics, like any other.

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