SEATTLE — Google is accusing Microsoft Corp. of cheating as the two duel for Internet search supremacy, but Microsoft denies the charge, saying it’s just using all the tools available to lessen its rival’s dominance.
The dust-up between the two companies grabbed the spotlight yesterday at an event sponsored by Microsoft about the future of Internet searches. Microsoft’s practices have even wider implications now that its technology powers Yahoo Inc. searches in the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil, and Mexico.
Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s Web spam team, said the company noticed last year that Bing was returning search results that seemed a little too close to Google’s own.
Google Inc. suspected Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Web browser and various toolbars were feeding information back to Microsoft that would help Bing’s results become more Google-like.
And so, Google laid a trap. The company made a list of obscure search terms and manually linked them to unrelated websites. Then, 20 Google engineers took home laptops loaded with Internet Explorer, searched Google.com for those terms, and clicked on the artificial results. Soon after, searching for the same odd terms on Bing would call up the same odd results.
Harry Shum, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Bing, responded during a panel discussion with Cutts.
“It’s not like we actually copy anything,’’ Shum said. “We learn from customers who are willing to share data with us, just like Google does.’’
The information can be used to fine-tune Bing’s search results. And that sort of “collective intelligence,’’ Shum said, is how the Web is supposed to work.