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Google, Microsoft trade barbs over Bing 'copying'

Allegations that Microsoft copies Google search results were not well-received by a Microsoft executive sharing the stage with Google's top spam engineer.

Google's Matt Cutts (left) and Microsoft's Harry Shum probably won't be going out for a beer after the Farsight 2011 conference.
Google's Matt Cutts (left) and Microsoft's Harry Shum probably won't be going out for a beer after the Farsight 2011 conference. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO--Hours after Google accused Microsoft of copying its search results, representatives from the two companies exchanged rhetorical blows over the difference between "copying" and "listening to users."

Google's Matt Cutts and Microsoft's Harry Shum smiled for the cameras at the Farsight 2011 conference today but barely disguised their mutual contempt. It was the first public appearance by each following Google's revelation that it set a trap to test whether Microsoft was using browser click data from Internet Explorer users on Google to inform search results on Bing.

Microsoft isn't taking the allegation lightly. "My view is that we just discovered a new source of spam and click fraud," Shum said, arguing that Microsoft gathers information like any other search company by observing where its users click: it's just expanding the concept of "user" from "searchers on" to "Internet Explorer users." In a blog post released just before the panel began, he wrote "what we saw in today's story was a spy-novelesque stunt to generate extreme outliers in tail query ranking."

Cutts wasn't having any of that. "This is the first time I've seen something like this," he said on the panel, damning Microsoft and Shum for using browser click data to inform search results rather than clicks on Bing itself. Before it started, Cutts made the rounds at the conference center at the University of California at San Francisco with a laptop open to four screenshots comparing the fake queries Google constructed and the results page with the same queries on Bing.

Moderator Vivek Wadhwa attempted to move the discussion onto other subjects, but the sniping between Shum and Cutts permeated the 30-minute talk as Blekko co-founder and CEO Rich Skrenta tried to get a word in here and there.

Shum, corporate vice president at Microsoft in charge of Core Search Experience, blamed Google for encouraging Web spam through AdSense, saying that Google makes a lot of money from spam and low-quality content monetized by AdSense ads. Cutts denied that, saying that when Google kicks a spammer out of its rankings it also cuts off that company or individual's AdSense account.

Shum dared Google to be more transparent about its approach to spam and content farms, issues that other critics of the search engine have raised. "You have a responsibility to share (your approach) in a more transparent way" to help the entire search industry combat spam.

No punches were thrown, but it's safe to say that Cutts and Shum probably won't be exchanging Christmas cards this year.