Does Google cheat? No more than Bing does

All search engines are guilty of bias, no matter what the FTC says. Don't believe me? Ask these adorable kittens.

The verdict is in, the feds have spoken, and it seems that Google has been cleared of charges of “search bias.” We can now all get back to arguing over what to name Kim and Kanye’s love child.

For the last 19 months, the FTC has been scrutinizing whether Google tweaked its search algorithms to favor its own services over those of competitors. And, given Google’s ginormous search market share (nearly 70 percent last time I checked), does that constitute an abuse of power on the level of a monopoly?

Those are some of the questions the FTC was asking. Yesterday, it decided that Google isn’t cheating. Or, perhaps more accurately, it decided that if Google is cheating, it’s doing so in a way that benefits consumers (as well as Google). So suck on that, Microsoft.

Needless to say, folks who very much believe Google is cheating (like Microsoft, Yelp, and Kayak, to name a few) were not happy with the FTC’s decision. Personally, I get the feeling nobody at the FTC wanted to dive into Google’s inscrutable ever-morphing algorithms in front of a jury, lest they all lapse into a coma.

On the other hand, I also haven’t felt particularly harmed by Google search results, aside from the advertisements that are growing like kudzu every time I run a search. No harm, no foul, no need for remedy. Right?

Still I thought a side-by-side comparison of Google and Bing might prove instructive, so I conducted some wholly unscientific tests to see if one engine was playing faster and looser than the other.

I started with travel, since both Bing and Google offer their own dedicated travel search services. I searched for flights from New York City to Stockholm on both sites. Here’s what that search looked like in Google:

google nyc to stockholm-600p.png

Note that below the three featured ads from KLM, Iceland Air, and CheapoAir is a boxed set of results from showing flight times and fares. So much for any need to hit

What about Bing? The same search turned up the following:

bing nyc to stockholm-600p.png

Here there were four sponsored ads (Webjet, JetBlue, OneTime, and Vayama) followed by a search box for Bing was actually pulling its results from; presumably Google got its results via its acquisition of ITA Software. Aside from the fact that Bing showed a lot more cheap fares than Google, I’d call that battle a push.

Next test: Find the best taquerias in San Francisco. Here’s what Google Maps had to show me:

google sf taquerias-600p.png

And here’s what Bing Maps had to say about it.

bing sf tacquerias-600p.png

In this case, Google derived its ratings from Zagat, which it acquired in September 2011 (after Yelp yelped loudly about Google scraping its customer reviews for use in results). Bing drew its ratings from a deal it has with TripAdvisor. The results are different, but it’s hard to see any bias. Still, neither site wins this one because my favorite SF joint, Taqueria San Jose on 24th near Mission, isn’t listed among the top results for either.

The final and most decisive test came down to the reason Al Gore invented the Internet in the first place: To promote and distribute videos of cute kittens. Not surprisingly, the first four results from Google were adorable kitty vids from YouTube.

google cute kitten videos-600p.png

By contrast, Bing served up a link to its video search page as the first result – but of course, most of the videos there were also from YouTube – followed by four YT clips.

bing cute kitten videos-600p.png

For my money, Bing’s number one result, the 17-second “Surprised Kitty,” was better than Google’s 3-minute “Cute Kitten Can’t Roll Over.” Your cuteness quotient may vary. But it’s clear Google’s YouTube has a monopoly in the crucial Fetching Felines market. Somebody call the feds!

Bottom line: All search engines “cheat.” If Google is harming anyone, it’s Bing, not consumers. Pick the one that cheats in the way you like best.

Which search engine is your fave? And what should the Kardashian-West hellspawn be called? Post your answers below or ping me on Twitter.

Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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