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Google and Microsoft in right royal Bing-dong over 'stolen' search results

Google has accused Microsoft of using user data to rip off its search results in rival search engine Bing, starting a hilarious search-engine spat.

Google and Microsoft are locked in a right old Bing-dong today over alleged copying of search results. Google has accused Microsoft of using user data to rip off its search results in rival search engine Bing, and has even branded Bing "a cheap imitation".

In an official blog post, Google outlined an experiment that used fake search results to catch Bing red-handed. A Twitter spat has now flared between Microsoft's Frank Shaw and Google's Matt Cutts.

Pay attention: here comes the science. Google first noticed something was up with the search term 'tarsorrhaphy' -- it's something to do with stitching eyelids together, apparently -- and compared the results returned by Bing and its own search. Google tried searching for a misspelling of the word and found that Bing returned the same results, even though it didn't correct the spelling.

Google's misspelling team keeps an eye on searches around typos, and the tarsorap... tarsohap... eyelid thingy led to other search results that compared between the two search engines -- even those Google considered to be an error in its algorithm.

So Google did the obvious thing: it set a trap. Google deliberately set real, random webpages as top results for nonsense search terms such as hiybbprqag, then searched for those terms on Bing. And whaddayaknow? Bing returned the same random pages in its search results, even though they actually had nothing to do with the search term.

Google reckons Microsoft is using Internet Explorer and the Bing toolbar to get information on what people search with Google, then use those results to inform Bing searches. Google reckons it's proved Bing is ripping off its search results, but it's more likely that Microsoft collects data from all websites (as Howard Yeend points out), and the results are skewed because people use Google a lot -- especially when Google is inserting fictional results.

It's also a bit rich for Google to complain about other people stealing its content, seeing as that's the Big G's, y'know, entire business model. Whether or not Microsoft is cribbing Bing results from Google, the fuss Google is making shows Bing is a serious rival only a couple of years after launch. That's probably got a lot to do with Internet Explorer's monopoly on browsers, however.

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