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Bing’s Google Argument Makes No Sense

06 Feb 2011, Posted by admin in Google, 5 Comments

Bing’s Google Argument Makes No Sense


Recently Google accused Bing of effectively copying their results by using toolbar data, and data from Internet Explorer if the suggested sites feature is enabled – you can read Google’s side of the story here, and the story of Bing’s response here.

I’m not going to explain it all in too much detail because I think those two articles cover it quite well, but as a quick summary:

1. Google suspected Bing of using some of Google’s data in Bing’s results
2. Google set up a test to prove this – by allowing pages to rank for “synthetic queries” (Googlewhacks), using IE8 with the Bing bar installed to search for and then visit those pages, and then found Bing returning around 9% of those results a few weeks later
3. Bing very strongly denied “copying” Google’s results once accused

Bing’s description of what’s happening appears to be around the use of “clickstream data” – it sounds like the Bing toolbar (and IE with suggested sites) looks at which pages you’re on and which pages you visit afterwards. This isn’t restricted to Google – this is, apparently, for all pages on the Internet.

There’s arguments from people saying that Google is right to find this unacceptable, and others saying that Bing is in the right.

I was actually quite surprised by the number of people siding with Bing over this, there’s something about Bing using it’s browser to collect user data from competitors that doesn’t sit quite right with me. Regardless, I was surprised by some of the things that Bing said to defend itself.

Google engaged in a “honeypot” attack to trick Bing. In simple terms, Google’s “experiment” was rigged to manipulate Bing search results through a type of attack also known as “click fraud.” That’s right, the same type of attack employed by spammers on the web to trick consumers

Yusuf Mehdi, Bing.

What Bing is complaining about here, is that Google engineers chose to adjust Google’s results for specific terms, searched in Google for those keywords and then clicked on those listings. In Google. That’s not an “attack”, nor is it a “trick” and it’s definitely not “click-fraud”.

Bing also mentions that the clickstream data that they’re using is one of 1,000 signals used to determine where a site should rank, and that the honeypot keywords that Google used were noticeable because they were outliers – and as such they only really had the clickstream data to go on.

How much of the clickstream data, is actually data from Google?

But this is what I don’t fully understand – the clickstream data itself. Bing says that the clickstream data isn’t just for Google – it’s for all sites on the web. But of course, Google – their biggest competitor – is the second most visited site on the Internet from the US, so it’s fair to say that a very hefty chunk of that clickstream data actually contains data from people searching on Google.

What happens when the clickstream data is scaled?

The other thing I don’t understand is what happens when you scale that clickstream data. We’ve only seen what happens when it’s used on 100 invented terms from Google’s honeypot test, where around 9% of those queries then appeared to affect Bing’s results. Bing implies that this isn’t a lot, and that the effect is much smaller when it’s scaled – but I’m not so sure. I’d actually be quite surprised if, when this was scaled to something the size of the Bing toolbar’s userbase, there wasn’t a very noticeable impact on Bing’s results. This is one of those things that cannot really be proved – we have to take Bing’s word for it.

Is Bing morally right to take Google’s user data?

During the Farsight video, the Bing rep mentioned that they were only using publicly available clickstream data – but of course, that data isn’t publicly available. The data is coming from a toolbar, and the conditions are, let’s face it, buried away somewhere in a EULA which nobody in their right mind ever reads. These users have legally opted in to sharing that data, but I don’t think they’re aware of it.

Regardless of that, though – Bing is taking data from Google users, who are searching on Google and allowing it to influence Bing’s search results. It may be legal, but it doesn’t mean you have to agree with it.

Flickr image from reway2007.

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5 Comments

February 6, 2011 6:28 pm

Branko

There is another issue with Bing’s (and the majority of the crowd) response and I myself haven’t thought of it at first.

They are saying that Bing is only using click data as one of the legit ranking parameters. But they are not only using the click data, they are using the referral as well and they are not only using the referral, they are parsing the keywords out of it and using the query data from Google as a ranking signal. It is not just that they are using the referring URL to establish a connection between two sites and give more weight to links between them or something like that.

They are specifically using the query data to influence their SERP. While that is not direct scraping of Google SERPs, it is the closest thing to it possible.

Lets just say that if someone searched for [qasddsfsfrewrwe] on your site and clicked through to my site from the results, while using IE with toolbar on, I doubt it that Bing would parse that query data to rank my site for that nonsense keyword. Just sayin.

February 6, 2011 9:37 pm

Everfluxx

Hi. To use browsing behaviour and opt-in clickstream information gathered by IE and the Bing toolbar as a ranking signal seems to me a far cry from “copying” [sic] a competitor’s search results, even if the net effect may be similar when the analyzed data comes primarily from that competitor, as is the case with Google. :)

Every search engine is a scraper; and, today, every single search engine except Duck Duck Go tracks users:

directly (through advanced browser fingerprinting);
by means of various browser add-ons, including their toolbars;
through analysis of log files which they acquire both directly (wherever they act like carriers of bandwidth providers) and from ISPs (oh yes, they do).

Ask yourselft: what do we know about how Google uses the monstrous (both in quantity and in quality) volume of information it gathers from its own services and from third-party services around the web, given Google’s ridiculously vague and generic privacy policy?

Can we, as SEO, affirm with absolute confidence that the information gathered by the Google Toolbar is certainly not used for rankings?

February 8, 2011 4:46 am

Sunny

Cross posting from Matt Cutts blog. Fed up to comment everywhere. :P

Google DOESNT own Clickdata. Users own there clickdata and by participating in the opt-in program, they are transferring ownership or atleast right to use to MSFT.

Is it ethical to use Google’s clickdata if ever Google owns it? Yes.

What was break through in search? PageRank. How does it work?

It uses outbound and inbound links on x.com/blah to rank all the pages that linked by x.com/blah. Isnt Google using x.com/blah’s data to rank other pages? Is it ethical of Google to use x.com/blah’s links to rank the content of pages it is linking to? Yes. Because it helps in better ranking, on the same lines, its ethical to use clickdata from _ANY DAMN SITE_ on earth to rank results.

There is lot of difference between clickthrough and scraping.

Get it straight, every real time sensor lacks context.

User was displayed 10 links and he clicked on 4th link. So what? To use this well you need to know what else was displayed to him. A guy queries for his girlfriend’s name and there is celebrity with name whose facebook profile is first link and his girlfriend’s facebook profile is 2nd, he clicks on second. Does that mean 2nd was top result for this query? No.

Also, clickdata is for static ranking which is query independent. It doesnt make any sense to associate it with a query.

Also imagine, how Bing can royally screw its result by just including Google click data. It has so much noise. Its hard to normalize, people from X country tend to click more than Y country. You cant normalize it.

Google results are specific to geography. They are query dependent. Given that you cant analyse log in real time, click stream is majorly a static ranking feature. And static rank is always query independent.

More over, if I were to use that feature, I wont do it on Google. Web results dont have any context. I would rather prefer clickstreams on a specific site. For ranking technical articles, I would prefer TechCrunch clickstream or some tech blog than generic web result.

I do agree that Bing benefits from Google’s ranking, but not because its Google, but any search engine or any popular site. If any item is getting more clickthrough on eBay search, its will get better rank in Bing. So I dont find why Google is so cocky about there IP. Its not there IP. Its user’s click action that is benefitting Bing.

Now the point is, Did Google did there homework before going public? Did they stand by and let media took over and blame Bing?

No, the are incomplete in there accusations.

None of there experiments prove that Bing uses Google as a special signal. Those are so gibberish queries, that only clickstream signal had a non zero score. More over it was clicked only on Google, so only Google’s clickstream mattered. No where it signifies that Bing uses Google’s clickstream data in special way.

I believe, you would agree, a monster search engine should have done a full fledged experiment before going public with such half baked result. Unless, they have planted a really huge PR coup to either get away from hot topic of spam on Google or to hamper Bing.

Oh, to conclude. By all means, Google is still best. I wont move to Bing. But Google lost the respect it had :(
Can we get back to something more productive?

February 8, 2011 9:30 am

Everfluxx

Hi again. I thought it would be worth to add a few points.

there’s something about Bing using it’s browser to collect user data from competitors that doesn’t sit quite right with me.

Bing did not “collect user data from competitors”; on the contrary, IE8 and/or the Bing toolbar collected data from their users: a not so subtle difference. And who owns the browsing/searching experience? Some argue it’s the users/searchers that “own their browsing behavior and can reveal what they do across the web to whoever they want to”. Personally, I agree. Google instead seems to imply that they own their users’ search experience, a claim which I believe is legally untenable and ethically unacceptable, especially from Google’s position of near-monopoly.

Google engineers chose to adjust Google’s results for specific terms, searched in Google for those keywords and then clicked on those listings. In Google. That’s not an “attack”, nor is it a “trick” and it’s definitely not “click-fraud”.

You’re right: what Google did was not an “attack”, nor a “trick”, nor “click fraud”. It was a spam test: reverse-engineering at its best. One may even call it black-hat SEO, since in doing so Google violated their own policy:

“Our search results are not manipulated by hand. We’re not able to make any manual changes to the results.” (Source)

Oh yes you can, because that’s what you just did.

Then again, last but not least: as Danny Sullivan pointed out, it is still unclear whether browsing data gathered by the Google toolbar with enhanced features enabled is used in other ways (beyond measuring site speed) to help rank existing URLs.

The Google Toolbar privacy page says: “We process your requests in order to operate and improve the Google Toolbar and other Google services”, and that’s all.

I wish someone made a test. :)

February 22, 2011 9:42 pm

Googlebanned

I do agree. Google is wrong affirming that. Their test proves absolutely nothing.
Moreover, (I hate to say this) I find Google’s search results getting worse, day by day, and it truly amazes me that Google is so preoccupied “catching” Bing instead of cleaning the rubbish from their own search results.
I reported a lot of top ranking websites in Google’s search results, for using black hat SEO techniques, but Google doesn’t seem bothered.
So yes, I believe that Google’s attack on Bing has only one purpose: to make Bing look bad, and to sabotage a bit, Bing’s revival.
I still find Google being a good search engine, but Bing has made improvements and I really like it.

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