But Microsoft says it isn't a big deal
Half the developed world may be snowed in right now, but the coiled and writhing plots that underlay all of Silicon Valley never rest. They just keep...coiling, and writhing and, uh, plotting. Anyway.
Today was Bing's big Future of Search event. And right ahead of it, Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineLand broke what may be the search engine story of the year. Bing is spying on user's Google results for some portion of their search optimization.
Google set up a cunning trap, with bait pages artificially attached to certain gibberish search terms. If Bing was pulling Google search data, some of those terms would show up attached to some of those same pages. And they did. Not in every instance, but widely enough to suggest intent on Microsoft's part.
At the event itself, Bing's Harry Shum and Google's Matt Cutts duked it out over the allegations. Shum seemed to acknowledge that some lifting occured, but accused Google of basically doing the same thing. Cutts categorically denied this.
Bing's response later in the day can also be read as a veiled admission of guilt. Only Bing doesn't think it did anything wrong:
"Many companies across the Internet use this collective intelligence to make their products better every day."
While Microsoft's search engine had a slow start, the Yahoo acquisition and continued development have turned it into a real competitor. Bing has been plucking users out of Google's hide for months now. Their share of US searches grew to 14.4% in November of 2010, while Google slid from 73.4% to 66.4%.
As impressive as its growth has been, Bing remains a giant money sink for Microsoft. At the 'Future of Search' keynote, Peter Theil estimated that Microsoft would need 35% market share before they could break even. That day is still a while off- if it ever comes.