Google catches Bing in a sting

February 1, 2011, 4:46 PM UTC

Microsoft has been gathering information on Google users with its Internet Explorer and Bing Search Bar products and Google has proven it.

Danny Sullivan over at SearchEngineLand has a great writeup of some ‘interesting’ techniques Microsoft has been using to bolster its search results.  It turns out that Microsoft (MSFT) is watching its Internet Explorer users with the Bing Search bar who search Google (GOOG).  The results that users choose in Google are then uploaded to Microsoft and used in Bing’s results.

How did Google get wind of this?  Google’s search engineers did a little sting operation…

First, Google engineers hard coded some weird results into Google’s search algorithm, something they don’t often do.  For instance, hiybbprqag would point to the Wiltern seating chart.  There is no reason this should happen naturally, it is simply mapping a search term to a URL artificially. Then, Google’s engineers went home, logged into Windows machines with Bing toolbars on them and searched for these terms that they had hardcoded in Google.  Some of them mapped in Bing the following weeks.  Here are some screen grabs:

It is clear Microsoft is using Google’s results to bolster Bing’s ability to find adequate search results.  Is this illegal?  Probably not.  However, Google’s engineers are plenty upset about it.  Considering the ways Microsoft tricks users into installing the Bing bar on their computers and still is a majority player in Operating Systems that come with IE as a default browser (in the US anyway), it seems pretty anti-competitive.

“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,” said Google’s 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.”

Microsoft is using its competitive advantage in operating systems to gain a foothold in search.   Sounds familiar.

Internet Explorer makes clear (to those who bother to read its privacy policy) that by default, it’s going to capture some of your browsing data, unless you switch certain features off. It may also gather more data if you enable some features.

Perhaps that is one reason why users are heading away from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser which hit its lowest point last month since Microsoft bundled IE with Windows to kill Netscape.