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Google's Search Copying Accusation Called 'Silly' 380

Posted by timothy
from the well-that's-not-very-silly-now-is-it? dept.
itwbennett writes "Google's Bing sting, reported in Slashdot just days ago and subsequently denied by Microsoft, is now being called 'silly' and 'petty' by search industry analysts and execs. The reason: it would be impossible for Microsoft to use the copied results to reverse engineer Google's search algorithms. And in fact it is more likely that Microsoft was conducting competitive research. Charlene Li, founder of technology research and advisory firm Altimeter Group, saw Google's actions as a misguided response to a real threat from a competitor in its core search business. 'Google isn't used to having competition. You look at this incident and you wonder why they are doing this. It feels amateurish in a way, a kind of 'they're not playing fair' attitude,' she said."
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Google's Search Copying Accusation Called 'Silly'

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  • Seriously? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:06AM (#35109770)

    They don't have to copy an algorithm if they are just copying search results. This response is amateur.

    • Re:Seriously? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ILuvRamen (1026668) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:17AM (#35109806)
      I agree totally. What "research" includes looking for an already searched term on Google and then looking at what results come up...then slapping them into your own live result list for the general public? Bing's cheap algorithm is some search and crawling technology from like 2007 mixed with marketing, marketing, MARKETING! Oh, and flashy features that don't really work. So it's not that shocking that they're ripping off other people's results because their product is pretty hollow to begin with.
      • Re:Seriously? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Korin43 (881732) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:26AM (#35109844) Homepage

        Hey, looking at the test next to mine isn't cheating. It's not like I could reverse-engineer the other students algorithm by looking at his test!

        • You do not need the algorithm. To copy the answer off the another paper. You just send a URL to Google and reformat the results in your handwriting.

          Now the Professor has called you out and you fail.
      • Re:Seriously? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ThePromenader (878501) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @04:49AM (#35110074) Homepage Journal

        I also agree - Bing is cheating. Never mind Google, they're second-sourcing ~everyone's~ results without giving them credit.

        Every search engine has its own search methods and data-parsing algorithms (down to the lowest in-site-search php code), and it is these algorithms that provide the 'top results' that bing toolbar (and/or IE) users are clicking on. Never mind the Bing toolbar user; what if the owner/creator of a search engine doesn't want any data generated by it to be sent to Bing - where does ~he~ opt out of MS' data-sculling program?

        Bing's tactics are distasteful for many reasons, but mainly a) because they exploit (toolbar) users to scull data from competitors and b) because Bing uses this data to provide 'top results' that it obviously values above those provided by its own algorithm. This is borderline - if not outright - industrial espionage.

      • Re:Seriously? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by rtfa-troll (1340807) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @04:56AM (#35110094)

        A pure marketing lead response is 100% right. The funniest thing was that the attempt to claim click fraud [businessinsider.com]. If we remember click fraud is where a site owner tries to get advertising revenue by making fraudulent clicks. I don't see how Google manages to get advertising revenue from Bing. This just seems to be a case of when you get caught start slinging as much mud around randomly as you can and hope people don't notice.

        In case people haven't noticed; what Google has discovered means that if you have private information leaked somewhere (e.g. a password in an SQL query) this means that bing is now pushing that straight from your browser (where it should normally be safe) onto the web. I'm surprised nobody has managed to find a bunch of interesting secret information in bing based on this. There must be some way to get it out. A good chance would be looking for unique keys in URLs or web pages and then feeding them into Bing.

        This just looks so obviously terribly wrong that you can see that Microsoft really doesn't have a clue about search. No wonder they have to copy.

    • Re:Seriously? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:41AM (#35109874)

      No kidding. I'm used to nonsense from "industry analysts", but this takes the cake. It's a complete non-sequitur. This never was a question of reverse-engineering. It's a question of straight-up ripping off results.

      On a related note, what's with all the Google-bashing recently? First the idea (which has now turned into a meme) that Google's search result are not the gold standard for search anymore, and now the idea (probably soon to be turned into a meme) that Google can't handle competition and is resorting to FUD?

      Yes, Google is no saint, it's not perfect. No shit, Sherlock. But if all I did was read "industry analysts" and various websites, I'd think that Google was about to fall apart, what with search sucking and all other products completely falling flat on their face. There's either a general search for the same story going on (Look Ma! I broke the news of Google sucking first!), or some grade A bullshitting is taking place.

      • Re:Seriously? (Score:5, Informative)

        by sortius_nod (1080919) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @04:13AM (#35109958) Homepage

        What's worse is that Microsoft is a client of Altimeter Group:

        http://www.altimetergroup.com/disclosure [altimetergroup.com]

        Sorry Slashdot, maybe before pushing a story to front page you do a bit of research. The story was submitted by IDG (itwbennett), one of the biggest Microsoft shills on the net. This is all getting out of hand, Microsoft is in damage control and just pushing this FUD about to ensure that faithful Bingsheep keep thinking it's "the best search provider".

      • I've only ever noticed search getting better.

      • Re:Seriously? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by rtfa-troll (1340807) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @05:01AM (#35110108)

        On a related note, what's with all the Google-bashing recently?

        I've seen some of it followed up on Grocklaw. As usual, it seems to trace back to Microsoft astro-turfers and lobby groups of various kinds. Microsoft seems to be pushing for some anti-Google anti-trust lawsuits, probably as a pre-emptive move to make any Google anti-trust moves more difficult during the various anti-patent lawsuits.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      I can't believe the number of clueless comments in this thread. Do you still not know what the original story was about? People who have opted to send information to microsoft used google (and various other search engines) to search for something. The Bing toolbar, or whatever was collecting the information, noted that person X searched for term Y, and eventually ended up at page Z. It makes perfect sense to connect Y and Z, regardless of the search engine used, or even if they asked a friend to point them

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by imthesponge (621107)
        It is cheating, regardless of the roundabout way they try to justify it.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by uglyduckling (103926)
          How is it "cheating" - who is making the rules? Is it not "cheating" to crawl millions of sites to find out how they link to each other? If not, why not? Bing are not targeting Google (although I'm sure they're aware that Google results would be included in this), they are collecting the path that the user took to every click that they make. Whether you and I think this is creepy or not (and I certainly do), the users of the toolbar opt-in to this, MS tracks what they do, and partially base their search
      • Re:Seriously? (Score:4, Informative)

        by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @04:52AM (#35110082)

        Methinks you are the clueless one here. The important part is indeed that Bing is essentially using Google results to boost its own accuracy. It doesn't matter that it comes through a user clicking on the first result of a Google search and opting to send that action to Microsoft. It wouldn't matter if MS had a bot directly scraping results from Google or had gremlins pick through the algorithm to send results via ESP. Microsoft deliberately and knowingly incorporated Google results into its own results, but without acknowledging this fact anywhere. That is the definition of plagiarism, and ultimately, cheating.

        If that's not the ultimate admission of "We don't know what the fuck we're doing, and have resorted to copying other people's results", I don't know what is.

      • by NoSig (1919688)
        You think the other commenters are clueless because it's you who don't get it. The point is that the users typed those search queries into Google and then selected search results that Google provided. Bing is not harvesting search results from Google directly, but they might as well have been doing that - this is just a more roundabout way of accomplishing the exact same thing as Bing directly doing searches at Google and noting the results for use as search results on Bing itself. The result is the same.
        • I'll bet if you did the same thing with Bing, but just clicked on lower links on the search results page, those search results would be pushed up closer to the top. They aren't copying algorithms. They are saying "hey, this guy was looking for a page about horses, and then they went to this page. We should promote that result." It's smart. MS is allowed to be innovative. You don't have to have a fit when they get things right.

          • by chaboud (231590)

            Nobody ever said that they were copying the algorithm. The value is in the results. This is basically monte carlo results scraping, with a pleasant bias towards more popular searches (selection bias for bing toolbar users, too).

            It's clever, but they are *definitely* copying off of Google's test. The stupid thing about this is that it makes Bing results *more* like Google's, giving me no differentiating reason to use Bing.

            Lame, embarassing, fragile, and really poorly responded to. Microsoft fail, 100%.

        • by Rockoon (1252108)

          The point is that the users typed those search queries into Google

          No they didn't. They types them into the bing toolbars searchbox, which then uses whatever search engine is configured.

          Why are making arguments when your beginning premise is demonstrably wrong?

      • by Solandri (704621)

        People who have opted to send information to microsoft used google (and various other search engines) to search for something. The Bing toolbar, or whatever was collecting the information, noted that person X searched for term Y, and eventually ended up at page Z. It makes perfect sense to connect Y and Z, regardless of the search engine used, or even if they asked a friend to point them to a page about the subject.

        That's a weak argument. It's like that story about Alison Chang and Virgin Mobile [nytimes.com]. Just be

    • Re:Seriously? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Maestro4k (707634) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @04:15AM (#35109968) Journal

      They don't have to copy an algorithm if they are just copying search results. This response is amateur.

      You can certainly make the case that Google setting up the "sting" operation was "silly", or "petty", but Microsoft's response to the whole thing has been quite enlightening. I think it's Microsoft that's got issues with having a real competitor, and it shows. Google's kinda just rubbing salt into the wounds, which isn't very professional, but MS needs to respond better. Trying to deny it, and at the same time accuse Google of committing "click fraud" to setup the sting (something which has a very specific meaning [wikipedia.org] that's mostly criminal and has not a damn thing to do with Google's "sting" operation) comes across as... desperate at best.

      Personally I think the whole thing is silly on both sides, but MS's response has done a lot to wipe out the little bit of trust they'd gained in past years for behaving somewhat better. MS's response, and not the whole "sting", is making me even less likely to use Bing in the future as well. Both of these are outcomes I suspect MS didn't want to cause with their reaction. In a nutshell, Google won this little fight when MS started responding with denials and attempts to make Google look like they'd done criminal stuff.

    • by nospam007 (722110) *

      Exactly! Robbers don't steal jewels and cash to get specimens to duplicate, they just steal.

  • by powerspike (729889) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:07AM (#35109774)
    I do a lot of internet marketing, about 12 months ago, for around a week, I kept finding bing results in the google search results for various queries, they would be stupid Not to check out the competitions results and quality level. if you do a site:bing.com search, you'll still find some bing results in the google listings, but no where near as much as they where a year ago.
    • by reiisi (1211052) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @04:11AM (#35109954) Homepage

      I think you're confused on the point of "attack".

      For example, I can post a link to this page [cnet.com]. Google can now see the page. Of course, it could get to that page from within shopper.cnet.com, anyway, but the robots.txt file or NOINDEX/NOFOLLOW tags may be warning it off. (So Google has to walk the URL back up to http://shopper.cnet.com/robots.txt [cnet.com], to make sure, and it may not see http://www.shopper.com/robots.txt [shopper.com], by the way.)

      More to the point, I can post a link to this page [cnet.com] of a search result on shopper.com. Then Google can see that search. And, in an hour or two, it might show up in a google search of "wall wart servers", which would be useless, but anyway.

      I can post a link to this query [cnet.com], however, and, not only might Google's spider collect it (from here), but it might not even have to get it from here. I'm probably not the first person to search shopper.com for "Small office home office server".

      I can't see there being an ethical issue here, because those links feed people to shopper.com. In fact, cnet likely has some agreements with Google on that. And many such search sites (well, smaller ones) deliberately use Google's search engines to save themselves a bit of infrastructure cost.

      Google, on the other hand, may prefer not to put some of those small search sites results on their general search pages, but that's a side issue.

      Now, how do you suppose that bing picks up a query like, "m4-7734-6al 63363r [google.com]"? Unless someone posts that (like I just did), how does bing get that query just from my using it in a Google search a few minutes ago?

      To say this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black, you'd be accusing google of planting code in Chrome that watches for bing search results and feeds them back to google's search engine optimizer on the sly. (A new way for a browser to call home!) And/or of making deals with the Mozilla team. But the evidence you mention doesn't really support that, as someone else points out.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:07AM (#35109776)

    I don't see this phrase going down well in any other industry. If you copy a map or a book or the design for a car from a different company in the same field, you wouldn't get out of it by calling it "competitive research". Microsoft doesn't need to reverse engineer google's algorithm if they can just steal their results directly; in fact, it's simpler this way because it cuts out the middle part where they even bother to figure out how it works.

    • by grantek (979387) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:45AM (#35109884)
      It's not "research" if the leeched data appears on your production site automatically and without review...
    • But, this isn't like copying a map or a book or a car design from another company. This is more like one Ford saying to a Volvo driver "what do you do with your Volvo controls when it's snowing?", making a note of the response, and then using that to inform their next car design.
      • Ah, and their search dev team was "informed" by google's linking of "mbzrxpgjys" to Research in Motion", were they? I wonder what algorithm revisions lead to Bing making the exact same link?

    • Plagiarism [wikipedia.org] is defined in dictionaries as "the wrongful appropriation, close imitation, or purloining and publication, of another author's language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions, and the representation of them as one's own original work." (wikipedia)

      I think that the wikipedia definition pretty much says it. If Bing had put their purloined searches up as "Google top result", with a convenient link back to the Google page they scraped the result from -- then there'd be not be much to snark about. The pr

  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:09AM (#35109786) Homepage

    It worked, though. It diverted attention from Microsoft's accusation that Google profits from search spam.

  • If its just the click result for some weird search words then I would say Microsoft was being very clever.

    If Microsoft is exclusively using Google's click-through data for the all the popular search words then Microsoft is cheating.

  • That poor little upstart is struggling with all that competition that google does not have

  • by euyis (1521257) <.euyis. .at. .infinity-game.com.> on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:15AM (#35109798)
    Who needs to reverse engineer the Google's search algorithm when you can simply copy the results? Read the Google accusation again and it didn't even mention anything related to reverse engineering. Why is the "industry" always so silly?
  • by Nyall (646782) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:15AM (#35109800) Homepage

    I read the article and it just seemed like a bunch of collated sound bites with all the intelligence of a 14 year old who thinks she wins arguments by being the first to call the other a hater.

    • by Nyall (646782)

      p.s. I'm aware that comparing them to a 14 year old is probably just as much an ad hominem as a 14 year old who likes to call people haters.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:20AM (#35109820)

    They seem to be dancing around the core charge of copying what were nonsensical search results that, if not copied from Google, should not have returned any results. They also seem to be attempting to misdirect in talking about "copying Google's algorithm", when I believe the charge is specifically about copying search results.

    I did note that the "Altimeter Group" has only been around a couple years - and has a very website that is full of vague social media-related buzzwords without indicating what, exactly, is their actual skillset (if anything).

    • Summary:
      google > We made up results, and you had the very same results. You wouldn't have the same results unless you copied.
      microsoft > We are not copying because that wouldn't make sense. Google feels blahblah, Google is blahblah

      • Google proved the copying accusation, by placing some dummy, nonsensical results onto their site. Bing then copied them.
    • by martin-boundary (547041) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:42AM (#35109878)

      They seem to be dancing around the core charge of copying what were nonsensical search results that, if not copied from Google, should not have returned any results.

      Uhm, how would that work, exactly?

      Let's say you have a search engine toolbar that looks over a user's shoulder to see what webpages they go to. Presumably, the links that leave those web pages carry information on said user's interests (eg if the user reads slashdot, then the links point to things like other people's comments, and also the site which carries TFA, etc). So the text of that page and the links would be automatically connected by the search engine.

      Now if a user goes on a webpage that happens to be a google results webpage, then the links on that webpage will be search results. If one user types in a weird query, then the toolbar will think that user likes those kinds of weird queries, and maybe that other people would like those, too.

      So when another user now types exactly the same query to prove the "sting", then the search engine will think it has found another user who likes weird queries, no? So it should show the connections it has learned from the previous webpage.

  • by bogaboga (793279) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:20AM (#35109822)

    Compare the quote from the linked piece:

    Google's charge that Microsoft copied its search results is much ado about nothing, some industry insiders say...

    (emphasis mine).

    To this one by the Slashdot editor:

    "Google's Bing sting, reported in Slashdot just days ago and subsequently denied by Microsoft, is now being called 'silly' and 'petty' by search industry analysts and execs

    To a seasoned tech reader like me, these two statements mean different things. I can get industry analysts who can support Google's position. Time will tell. Surely Slashdot can do better.

  • by Cyberllama (113628) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:21AM (#35109824)

    Hey it's not like Microsoft is a client of the "Altimeter Group" and Google is not.

    http://www.altimetergroup.com/disclosure [altimetergroup.com]

    Oh? It's exactly like that?

    Look. Nobody thinks that Microsoft is "trying to reverse engineer their algorithm" from search results, but what they are apparently doing is harvesting user data from clicks. It appears that when a user searches from something, and clicks a link as a result of that search, the search term and site that the user found relevant is collected and used in their own search algorithm -- so they are, to some degree, piggybacking on Google here.

    On the one hand, its good to know what link your user found relevant -- that's important data for your own search engine to have, on the other hand that's really the sort of thing you should be gathering from your own damn search engine. I'm sure that by now, enough people are using Bing that they can get this data on their own. The only thing getting it through the browser instead of through bing allows them to do is gather it from Google users as well, which is essentially allowing them to tune their own algotrithm on the back of Google's.

    It's shady to say the least. Perhaps it was created with good intent -- as discovery tool for when users are on websites with internal search engines, but its obviously pulling in a lot more than that. If Microsoft continues to abuse that, they deserve any bad publicity they get as a result.

    • I was just wondering what the connection between Microsoft and this company was..

      Microsoft is a client of Altimeter, they are protecting their revenue stream ...

    • I think you strongly overestimate the capabilities of current AI. How might a search engine's spider figure out that a random page on the internet, with some text and links, is actually a Google results page in disguise? And that goes for cached pages in a browser and live webpages spied on by toolbars.

      Web spiders aren't human. Think about how many millions of web pages have free local search powered by Google, maybe reformatted in a site specific way? Think about how many web pages are cached copies, may

    • by williamhb (758070)

      It appears that when a user searches from something, and clicks a link as a result of that search, the search term and site that the user found relevant is collected and used in their own search algorithm -- so they are, to some degree, piggybacking on Google here.

      Actually, no. It appears that all the information Bing receives is the GET request on the link, not any of the content of Google's page (otherwise it would have got the corrected spelling and links other than the one Google paid users to click on). And that GET request is the same information that the visited site gets, so it has never been secret to Google. The Referer HTTP header contains the reffering URL which includes the user's (and I stress user's, ie not Google's) search query. And millions of s

  • by Anonymous Coward

    http://searchengineland.com/bing-why-googles-wrong-in-its-accusations-63279

    • by AftanGustur (7715)
      I read it,,

      Basically Microsoft's defense is now: "We're copying every search engine, not just google."

      It really doesn't justify anything.

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @03:25AM (#35109840)

    Since in Google's test the eventual outcome was plain to see for anyone that used the specific keywords they tested around, how is that "competitive research" on the part of Bing?

    Competitive research is what Google does - check every now and then on how accurate Bing's results are to what Google is seeing. It doesn't alter what Google users see, it just tells Google how the competition is doing.

    Bing's actions seem the opposite of "research" to me, because they are by design not actually examined by anyone at Bing, only by the customers! In the recent unveiling we see Bing acting as a routing engine to feed some Google results back through Bing. That is not research.

    I can't imagine anyone calling the act of pointing this out petty - it casts into doubt any result you get on Bing, as far as input being from Bing matching algorithms or Google's. Even if Bing's algorithms are really good, we'll never know - and that's the most unfortunate thing about this whole situation, as it has tainted the work at Bing regardless of how good it actually is.

    Thus the whole thing is not petty, it is in fact very sad for a number of undoubtedly quite smart computer scientists that will forever have this cloud overhead.

  • So if what Microsoft is doing is fair at what point does it exactly become unfair? They're currently harvesting Google's search results from users with software installed and settings enabled, and using that as a factor in their page relevance. What if I fore-go the users and setup some machines to automate this and submit search terms automatically for which I would like to borrow results? Is that fair? What if instead of just some search terms, it's an entire library of search terms? Is that fair? What if
  • If I was Google I would Goatse [wikipedia.org] Bing's ass for being so lame.
  • Google can prevent Bing from scraping their data if they want to. Instead they allow it so they can "sting" them. Ridiculous.

    • by Geminii (954348)
      How would they prevent it? Bing wouldn't be sending packets to Google directly, they'd be pulling results of previous searches from users' PCs. There would be no different from Google's perspective in terms of packets received or sent. And at the moment, Google not only gives the direct search result links in the code as HREF links, it gives them all visually as well. Even if they scrambled the link results through their own forwarder with a tagging hash string, the visual and selectable text of the raw lin
  • by Missing.Matter (1845576) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @04:25AM (#35110004)

    I think this article says everything that needs to be said on the issue:

    http://searchengineland.com/bing-why-googles-wrong-in-its-accusations-63279 [searchengineland.com]

    Essentially Bing's defense (as outlined in the article) goes like this:

    • Bing is monitoring users who opted in to send Bing data. They are watching their activity on any site, and not specifically Google.
    • The search signal generated by users does not dominate, unless it's the only signal (as Google tried to ensure it would be) it will have more weight, but not absolute. Even Google's test showed this to be true, as only a fraction of their honeypot terms made it to the other side.
    • Less frequent seach terms (the example given is pontneddfechan) Bing's results are relevant, unique, and ordered differently from Google's. Google's tests reveal the very special case where 0 signal comes from other sources.
    • What's the BFD in the end? Google alleges Bing is stealing results, but only shows one concrete example of this (tarsorrhaphy), which can be easily accounted for by crawling Wikipedia, which seems much more likely.
    • by hellop2 (1271166) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @08:06AM (#35110582)
      Are you serious? Clickstream, Surfstream, Searchstream. Fancy words for a keylogger. From your link:

      “We’re not copying but watching users,” Shum said.
      Weitz added, “The word ‘copy’ has a very specific connotation, and it’s wrong. We get the clickstream. We’re going to see it. We may choose to show it or not.”

      It doesn't matter if you call it watching instead of copying. It's still copying. Bing shouldn't be "watching" google's results, or "copying" the user's click behavior. That's like google's trade secrets. An analogy would be an online newspaper who copies articles verbatim from a competitor, and then justifying it by saying, "We didn't copy the article, we just monitored the user's eyestream and discovered this article. But it's ok because we copy everybody's articles."

      From your link: "Bing can also examine how people click on its own results that it lists in response to that search." No shit? It's like it's listed as an afterthought. Of course Bing should be paying attention to their own clicks... and not scraping their competitor's data. But instead, they're trying to justify it using PR words, and creating a convoluted argument that they are merely, "showing the surfstream" rather than "creating a reproduction of an original work", i.e. copying.

      It would be like a dating site copying a fake profile from a competitor. "We didn't copy that profile, we're just showing the datestream."
      • by horza (87255)

        On top of that, after he claims Google plays such a minor role as they monitor every move on every site the user makes, when asked why not exclude Google to shut them up he basically admits it wouldn't work any more without Google. Seems pretty contradictory.

        Phillip.

  • Bulllshit like this is how databases, and other mere collections of information, will become copyrightable. Whoever wins, we'll lose.

  • Google's actions as a misguided response to a real threat from a competitor in its core search business.

    If a 'real threat' to Google's search business has to use Google to improve their results, I don't think Google will have anything to worry about from a competitor that will always be a few steps behind.

  • Because it clearly outs analysts who get their marching orders from Redmond.

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