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02.01.11

Microsoft is Just a Skin

Posted in Google, Microsoft, Search at 3:50 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Google is peeling Microsoft’s ‘search/decision engine’ off

Peeling wall

Summary: Google alleges that underneath Bong [sic] there is just a lot of scraping of Google search engine results pages (SERPs)

Microsoft copying others is not news at all. There are so many examples of it, some more blatant than others (not to mention many products that are simply rebadged “Microsoft” or get acquired by Microsoft). But the following new accusation suggests that Microsoft is simply ripping off Google not by copying what they do but by literally copying their output, their product, almost verbatim:

Google has run a sting operation that it says proves Bing has been watching what people search for on Google, the sites they select from Google’s results, then uses that information to improve Bing’s own search listings. Bing doesn’t deny this.

As a result of the apparent monitoring, Bing’s relevancy is potentially improving (or getting worse) on the back of Google’s own work. Google likens it to the digital equivalent of Bing leaning over during an exam and copying off of Google’s test.

“I’ve spent my career in pursuit of a good search engine,” says Amit Singhal, a Google Fellow who oversees the search engine’s ranking algorithm. “I’ve got no problem with a competitor developing an innovative algorithm. But copying is not innovation, in my book.”

Giving Microsoft the benefit of the doubt for the time being, Tech Radar asks, “Is Bing copying Google’s search results?”

Bing has come under fire after Google claims that the Microsoft-owned search engine has been plagiarising Google’s own search results.

Google has been running a ‘sting operation’ to try and catch Bing in the act of copying Google’s search results and thinks it has succeeded.

Laurel says: “If Bing wins the market and Google goes under, THEN what do they do if Google isn’t around to copy?”

5 years ago, Steve Jobs said that Microsoft “spend[s] over five billion dollars on research and development and all they seem to do is copy Google and Apple.” He probably did not mean “copy” in the sense that we see above. Assuming the allegations turn out to be truthful, Microsoft has gone way too far in this case. It has turned Yahoo! search into a Bong [sic] skin, which is in turn just a front end to Google, at least on the face of it. No shame, eh? And speaking of Yahoo!, Microsoft blames Vista Phony 7 [sic] failure on this marionette it got. And if that’s not bad enough, watch what Microsoft adds to its allegedly scraped-from-Google search results: it adds anti-features to them, essentially introducing more surveillance and spying on users, then bragging about it:

Researchers from the University of Washington and Microsoft Research have found that cursor movements and cursor hovers can detect the relevance of a search result and whether a user may abandon the search.

Whose results are these anyway? Is Bong [sic] just a massive ripoff of Google? And if so, why ever use Bong? To be tracked by Microsoft, even at the level of mousing? By the way, Microsoft makes no computer mice, it just sticks its logo/brand on some. Skin indeed!

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32 Comments

  1. David Gerard said,

    February 1, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Gravatar

    Bing is irrelevant. Under 1% of my own search engine hits. How’s TechRights do?

    (Bing image search is actually not worse than Google’s, but they’re both pretty awful.)

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    I could check this sort of stuff until December 2009 when we put Varnish (cache) to defend the server. So basically I can’t tell what comes to Techrights from Bong [sic] (statistics gathered for non-cached traffic only), but in schestowitz.com for January 2011 it was:

    Google 7477 10828
    Microsoft Bing 184 295
    Yahoo! 84 141

    David Gerard Reply:

    NewsTechnica.com January 2011 (search engine hits only): Google 97.2% (3738 pages), Yahoo! 1.3% (52 pages), other MS search sites 0.4% (16 pages).

    For me, MS search engines really just aren’t worth a second’s thought. There’s Google and there’s … no-one. That they’re an effective usage monopoly is far from ideal, but then you use other search engines and realise how comprehensively they suck. I think approximately no-one actually uses Bing by choice, only if it’s their system default.

    That said, as I noted, it’s worth a try if you’re having a troublesome image search, because no-one including Google has cracked the image search problem yet.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    What problem is it?

    David Gerard Reply:

    A lack of competition in an area that isn’t a natural monopoly is problematic in itself IMO, even if the company aren’t actually abusing the monopoly. Search doesn’t even have a network effect.

    (This applies in general. Wikipedia could really do with competition, as I have posted, but it does have a network effect to support the monopoly.)

    But then, people use Google for search because it’s actually much better than everyone else. I remember how bad search was before Google. Cuil gave people some insight into how awful search could be, but they’re gone now.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    So is Knol, Wikipedia’s alleged rival. AFAIK, Cuil was former Google engineers.

    David Gerard Reply:

    Knol was never a rival to WIkipedia :-) That notion came entirely from early press coverage of Knol trying to think of something to say about it. Neither Google nor Wikipedia thought Knol was competition.

    Google does a LOT of stuff, and not much of it is actually winners. But when they win (search, GMail, Android) they win big.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Cuil too was called a “Google killah” IIRC.

    David Gerard Reply:

    Yeah … but only by Cuil. http://cuiltheory.wikidot.com/what-is-cuil-theory

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Guess who was “killed” at the end? cuil.com is not even responding right now.

  2. Will said,

    February 1, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    Gravatar

    My guess is that for most of the diehard Microsofties, there is literally no understanding of how this behavior on Bing’s part could in any way be considered wrong (cheating), problematic, or even an embarrassment. I saw a twitter post from one that basically praised Bing as doing a smart thing in this case.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    “I hope this matter goes to court so Groklaw can index the details of discovery.” http://mrpogson.com/2011/02/01/wow-if-m-cant-beat-google-m-copies-google/

    twitter Reply:

    Mr. Pognson points out what might be a real violation. What Microsoft does is clearly a violation of Google’s acceptable use policies. If EULAs have any contractual force, this would be a good place for them to act. Microsoft loves to abuse people through proxies like the BSA for violating Microsoft’s terms of service. They have raided schools and businesses in their perennial search for more money. Perhaps the BSA will target Microsoft with a guns blazing raid. I’m putting in a call to 1-800-RU-LEGIT today!

    On a more serious note, schools taking Gates Foundation donations should carefully consider the ongoing risks of having restricted software on their property. As the nearly ten year old Salon article asks, “does the benefit of school giveaways outweigh the costs paid by schools that are the subject of anti-piracy inquires?” Microsoft’s nasty actions against Los Angles, Philadelphia, Birmingham (England), San Jose, were intended to terrorize other school districts. As last year’s attack on Internet cafes shows, Microsoft is watching every use and is willing to take every dime they imagine they can. There is no longer an excuse to waste money on non free software from Microsoft or anyone else. BSA raids prove that non free software not only violates your privacy and strips you of your rights, it is in Microsoft’s own words, a “legal timebomb” that everyone should clean up. Why bother with Microsoft’s cheap copy of KDE 3.5 (aka Windows 7) when you could just download KDE 4 and all the software you want?

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    I actually find Vista 7 [sic] to be more similar to KDE 4 (although KDE was first, Microsoft apparently copied).

  3. David Gerard said,

    February 1, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    Gravatar

    Oh, the timing! There goes another Bing exec, Scott Prevost, formerly of Powerset: http://infoworld.com/t/business/microsoft-casualties-rise-ebay-snags-big-bing-exec-116

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Many Microsoft search execs have already moved to eBay.

    twitter Reply:

    Powerset, they were the wikiscrapers. Funny you should mention them, David.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Well spotted.

  4. twitter said,

    February 1, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    Gravatar

    Didn’t Microsoft also use Wikipedia pages for Bong, without attribution? Yes they did. They copied pages then served them up as “reference”. Looks like they gave up that idea.

    We should not be surprised to learn that Microsoft scrapes Google’s results page. Given the similarity of results, no reasonable person could think they don’t. For instance, at least five of the eleven first Bing results for “cats” are also on Google. The order has been changed, perhaps in response to people noticing, and Google throws locality results that Bing would never guess unless someone paid them to advertise. If that’s not statistically improbable enough for such a mundane and common topic, other recent searches yielded virtually identical results. I imagine Google’s proof is better than my informal survey but Microsoft’s copy job is so bad that it is clearly visible.

    What else can be expected from a company that allegedly got its start dumpster diving the source code to basic?

    David Gerard Reply:

    They attributed Wikipedia content fine. We have no problems with people putting Wikipedia content to use for any purpose :-)

    twitter Reply:

    My point was to show where Microsoft was trying to take credit for the work of others and that they are huge hypocrites. Now I see, just barely, a “View Original Wikipedia Article” in the Register screenshot. That might be fine for you, but that does not change Microsoft’s intentions. Chances are that most Bing users would not know that Wikipedia is not a Microsoft project, if they noticed the attribution at all. Bing users who are aware of Wikipedia will be lead to believe that Microsoft has edited the article in honest way … better than the original, says the big publisher. I understand and share your opinion of the use of works, but we should take Microsoft to task for being the selfish bullies they are.

    Microsoft’s hypocrisy and arrogance is amazing. While Wikipedians may bask in Microsoft’s use of their work, which is the sincerest form of endorsement, I remember previous and ongoing big publisher slams. The makers of the decidedly third rate encyclopedia on a CD, Encarta, like all big publishers would like you to believe that ownership of data is equivalent to verification of data and that a Bing branded Wikipedia is better than the original. Microsoft is happy to use Wikipedia, don’t dare share your copy of Encarta or anything else Microsoft owns. While the sociopaths at Microsoft don’t see anything wrong with exploiting the work of “competitors” they wish to screw [2], they would have the lawyers going full blast if anyone pulled the same stunt with them. As Bill Gates once put it:

    most of you steal your software. Hardware must be paid for, but software is something to share. Who cares if the people who worked on it get paid? … Who can afford to do professional work for nothing? … The fact is, no one besides us has invested a lot of money in hobby software. … there is very little incentive to make this software available to hobbyists. Most directly, the thing you do is theft. … those who have been reported to us may lose in the end. They are the ones who give hobbyists a bad name, and should be kicked out of any club meeting they show up at. I would appreciate letters from any one who wants to pay up

    Microsoft people are theives, not because they have made use of Wikipedia or even Google, but because they would own it all if they could. I see a parallel here between Microsoft’s use of Google and Wikipedia work while saying nasty things about both and their judicial extortion of free software companies and users. Microsoft’s end goal is always ownership and exclusion to create an artificial scarcity so that the company can charge rent on the labor of others. Watch them merge up with broadcasters like NBC and cable companies like Comcast, so that they can put toll booths on everything and turn the world wide web into pay per page, CableTV.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    When you use someone else’s service you’re subjected to egregious conditions. I don’t think it’s illegal.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    My last comment was supposed to be a response to: “Actually, there is a disturbing allegation of privacy breach going on here that Microsoft basically admitted to.”

    As for Microsoft using Wikipedia content, how is that different from Microsoft’s (and Apple’s) use of BSD-licensed code to build their programs? They are leeches that want other people to share their stuff for free while they themselves call those who share “pirates” and sometimes sue them, putting those who share in prison.

  5. twitter said,

    February 1, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Gravatar

    Bing, “Because It’s Not Google,” that mean spirited joke came back to bite them soon enough. It is true that Bing is not Google, despite the plagiarism, and that’s exactly why Bing should be avoided.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    There are more compelling reasons for avoidance.

  6. twitter said,

    February 1, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    Gravatar

    Actually, there is a disturbing allegation of privacy breach going on here that Microsoft basically admitted to. PJ found this gem in her newspicks,

    [caught off guard by the on stage accusation at a Bing sponsored event] Sitting next to Cutts, Microsoft vice president Harry Shum didn’t deny that Microsoft was watching what people searched on and clicked on in Google. “My argument is that when users use search engines, they are actually willing to share the data. We are collectively using the data to improve the search engine,” Shum said. “Everyone does this, Matt.”

    Shum and Microsoft should be ashamed of spying on people’s surfing. PJ rightly pointed out that this was a violation of people’s privacy. Microsoft seems to think it’s OK to record everything they happen to hear. The English words for that are eavesdropping and wiretapping. Perhaps this is part of Vista’s encrypted data stream back to Microsoft. This is a good reason to avoid Windows. Perhaps they make a deal with ISPs. That is why people should use end to end encryption and also outlaw the practice.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    [Reposted in the right place]

    When you use someone else’s service you’re subjected to egregious conditions. I don’t think it’s illegal.

    twitter Reply:

    Spying on users might be legal in a click through sort of way, but it is a great example of the power non free software gives companies like Microsoft over users. Legal, perhaps but also very creepy and unethical.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Illegal and unethical are closely correlated. One is the result of the other, just requires laws to be modified.

  7. NotZed said,

    February 2, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    Gravatar

    Unfortunately, google is basically useless for looking up scientific papers still – it tends to show cloaked paywall versions in preference to free or pre-published copies. While this is the case yahoo/bing is the only option for such searches.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Why not look directly at the relevant journals (e.g. PubMed)? They have search facilities too.

    twitter Reply:

    Use the site hack on Google instead, “site:arxiv.org search terms” for example. Bing usually sucks for deep or technical search.

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