Google, Bing Tussle Over Search

Two of the biggest tech companies in the world are in a dust-up over search. Google has accused Microsoft of stealing its search results for its new search engine, Bing.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Microsoft and Google are in the middle of a dustup over their competing search engines. Google is accusing Microsoft of stealing its search results and incorporating them into its own search engine, Bing.

NPR's Laura Sydell reports.

LAURA SYDELL: When you type a search request into Google, say, Hosni Mubarak, and you're a couple of letters off, Google can usually figure out what you mean.

Mr. AMIT SINGHAL (Software Engineer, Google): And getting these queries right is an incredibly hard task. It's a very challenging algorithm.

SYDELL: That's Amit Singhal. He's the lead of the search team at Google. A few months back, they noticed something strange. A user searched for tarsorrhaphy.

Mr. SINGHAL: It was this real medical procedure that some users generally needed to know about.

SYDELL: The user misspelled it. But Google's algorithms figured out what he needed. Singhal noticed that competitor Bing didn't bring up any results until a few weeks later.

Mr. SINGHAL: Bing started showing the topmost relevant result for that spelling correction to their users.

SYDELL: Hmm.

Mr. SINGHAL: Now, we got suspicious. However, we said, maybe they came up with some clever algorithm and they did it.

SYDELL: But Singhal and his team decided to do a little experiment. They began to do searches for silly made-up words, and they created fake results unrelated to those words. A few weeks later...

Mr. SINGHAL: Microsoft's Bing started showing the same artificial result for the same synthetic query. And this was just conclusive to us at that point.

SYDELL: Conclusive that Microsoft was stealing Google's search results. Are you guys stealing?

Mr. YUSUF MEHDI (Senior Vice President, Microsoft's Bing): We do not copy their results. Period. Full stop.

SYDELL: That's Yusuf Mehdi, senior VP of Bing. Mehdi says all Microsoft is doing is taking notice of user behavior when someone uses Microsoft's browser, Internet Explorer, and they search on Google.

Mr. MEHDI: If users choose to opt in to share their, you know, click behavior, to help improve the search, then we gather that data anonymously, and we improve our products.

SYDELL: Mehdi says Google is just jealous, because Bing's been getting praise.

Mr. MEHDI: Well, many experts in the industry are saying, is Bing actually better than Google now? They're raising the question.

Mr. DANNY SULLIVAN (Editor-in-Chief, Search Engine Land): Perhaps, the whole thing can be summarized as Google saying, cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater and Microsoft is saying, liar, liar pants on fire.

SYDELL: That's Danny Sullivan of searchengineland.com, which follows the industry. In the end, Sullivan is sympathetic to Google. He worries that it is a disincentive for Google to work hard to create a better search engine. Sullivan says it isn't good for consumers to have two search engines that bring up the same results.

Mr. SULLIVAN: The consumer may be better off if these search engines have very unique voices, and that they are not just kind of mimicking each other and putting out the same kind of stuff.

SYDELL: In the end, Microsoft isn't doing anything illegal. This is a public relations war. And Sullivan does worry that Google could start to sound like a crybaby.

Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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