One day, Google engineers woke up with a gut feeling telling them its chief rival Microsoft and its Bing decision engine might had been borrowing their search results so they created a cunning trap to prove it.

Internally referred to as a sting operation, it has allegedly proved that Bing might have been cheating by secretly tracking both the stuff we’re searching on Google and the results we’re clicking.

Evil Microsoft, the story goes, then applied this intelligence to Bing so as to improve its own search results on the back of Google’s hard-earned credibility.

In a nutshell, this is the story that blew up earlier today when Search Engine Land detailed the sting operation and quoted Amit Singhal, a Google Fellow who oversees the company’s secret ranking algorithm:

I’ve got no problem with a competitor developing an innovative algorithm. But copying is not innovation, in my book.

Microsoft responded to those allegations saying they use "multiple signals and approaches" in ranking their own search results, including data obtained from those that opt-in to use the Internet Explorer toolbar. The Redmond firm also denied cheating allegations or any other foul play on its part. "We do not copy Google’s results," a company spokesperson told ZDNet.

Harry Shum, corporate vice president for Bing, followed-up with a blog post rejecting the notion that Microsoft in any was taking advantage of Google’s search or trying to reverse-engineer its secret ranking algorithm. Instead, Shum called the original post "a spy-novelesque stunt" and "a creative tactic by a competitor."

The sting operation highlighted how misspelled search queries for which Google offers real-time suggestions yield the same results on Bing, even when Microsoft’s algorithms provide no corrections for misspelled words. Below is Search Engine Land’s noteworthy example – feel free to draw your own conclusions.


A Google query for torsoraphy prompts Microsoft’s algorithms to search for the correct spelling – tarsorrhaphy (left screenshot). Strangly, the same query on Bing, which doesn’t correct the misspelled word, produces a carbon-copy top result like on Google (right screenshot) – a Wikipedia page about the medical procedure.

Makes you wonder, yess preciousss?