Google's recent "sting" of Bing has gotten plenty of press coverage. Unfortunately, among the tech crowd who may have prompted the PR stunt with recent criticism of Google's quality, a sizable portion of that press has been critical of Google.
Most of the criticism seems to center around one (or more) of four major complaints.
Google - King of Copiers
Even if you accepted Google's allegation that Bing is copying their search results, it's a bit like the pot calling the kettle black. Actually, it's more like the king of all pot's calling a kettle black.
Through the years, Google hasn't had a problem copying just about every innovation they thought was a good idea. To be honest, if I wanted to cover every instance of Google swiping ideas or features from there competition, this would be an incredibly long post. So lets just hit a few of the highlights.
- March, 2005 - Google copies Apple's OS X dock & promptly rescinds it a day later.
- December, 2006 - Google copies Yahoo's IE7 upgrade page.
- March, 2008 - Google copies Ask's user interface.
- June, 2010 - Google copies Bing's home page background image.
- November, 2010 - Google copies Bing's instant preview.
- January, 2011 - Google misses out on Groupon, and promptly copies the site with a property of their own.
- February, 2011 - Google builds off Amazon's recommendation engine but doesn't bother citing it's source.
As I said, the list really does go on and on. So even if Bing were copying Google's search results (they're not), it takes an incredibly short memory from anyone at Google to complain about the practice. Either that or it's the height of hypocrisy... you decide.
Manually Modified Rankings
Another interesting tidbit that came out of Google's "sting" operation was the revelation that Google can manually edit their search results.
Google of course claims this is the first time it's ever done this (a claim the Search Engine Land article dutifully reported without questioning the legitimacy) and furthermore claims the code will be removed immediately.
However, observers of Google have been claiming the company manually edits their rankings for as long as I can remember. Google has always denied it, but by revealing how they "caught Bing red-handed" they've provided skeptics all the ammunition needed to validate their previous accusations.
"Trying to squash a rumor is like trying to unring a bell" - Shana Alexander
And even if you take Google at their word that this is the first time something like this has happened, do you honestly believe it's the last?
Sure they claim not to unfairly favor Google properties in their rankings, but if you're a Google share-holder wouldn't you want them to? Google's been known to drive a decent amount of traffic. Would shareholders accept Google sending a chunk of that traffic to their competitors when they could easily modify the rankings to retain a large majority of it?
Now that Google's admitted to manually editing their rankings, they won't be able to unring that bell.
Google Lies About Data Use
The crux of Google's claim was that Bing was improperly using data from the Bing Toolbar or Internet Explorer. Such use, Google claimed, was unethical and certainly not a tactic Google would ever resort to.
"Absolutely not. The PageRank feature sends back URLs, but we’ve never used those URLs or data to put any results on Google’s results page. We do not do that, and we will not do that" claims Google's Amit Singhal.
It would seem someone should check Mr. Singhal's trousers for fire, because that's not at all accurate.
Google has admitted to using data from their own toolbar and the Chrome browser in their algorithm.
And before Google defenders jump to point out that Bing is accused of using the data gathered from a competitor's site, consider that Google also uses data from Twitter and Facebook (the latter of which is most definitely a Google competitor) to influence their rankings as well.
It would appear Google doesn't actually have a problem using toolbar data, or even competitor's data. It has a problem with a competitor having the audacity to do it to them.
The final issue many critics have raised is Google's timing of their accusations.
Despite completing the sting operation several weeks ago, Google sat on the information until the day of Bing's much publicized event.
Danny Sullivan claims the timing of his post reporting the story was delayed due to his travel schedule. However, there's no reason (other than PR value) Google had to break the story on Search Engine Land.
Had Google not wanted to overshadow Bing's event, they could have broken the story on their own blog (where they published their responses to the story) weeks ago.
Given Google's well documented history of stealing other companies' thunder, it requires an impressive level of naivety to believe the accusations weren't strategically planned to dominate the press coverage of the Big Think event.
A Sad Dethroning
In the long run, despite all the press coverage garnered by the PR stunt, Google may have damaged their reputation more than Bing's. Rather than outing Bing's search results as a "cheap imitation," Google instead laid bare it's own incredible hypocrisy, insecurity, and pettiness.
As Outspoken Media's Lisa Barone states, the Bing sting further legitimized Bing and "was kind of a sad dethroning" of Google.