February 05, 2011, 12:26 PM — Even if Microsoft did copy Google's search results the practice couldn't be scaled enough to mimic Google's algorithms in any widespread and meaningful way, search industry analysts and executives said.
It would also be impossible for Microsoft to use the copied results as a basis for reverse-engineering Google's secret search algorithms, those people said. Plus, ultimately, Microsoft probably isn't interested in having a search engine that acts exactly like Google's anyway, they said.
"This whole thing is a little silly," said Gord Hotchkiss, senior vice president at digital marketing provider Mediative.
This week, Google loudly published the findings of an internal investigation that it said proved that Microsoft, using its Internet Explorer browser and Bing toolbar, collected data about its users' Google search queries and the results they produced.
Google characterized the practice as cheating. Microsoft responded that end users allow it to collect that data, and that the information it collects is one of more than a thousand other "signals" it uses to refine its search results.
The vociferous debate has played out since Tuesday in the media, on stage at a Microsoft-sponsored search event and through multiple posts on Google and Microsoft blogs.
Google said it doesn't plan any legal steps against Microsoft but called for the practice to stop. Microsoft says Google had exaggerated the gravity of the issue by basing its investigation on artificial and nonsensical queries.
As the dust settles and observers weigh the companies' positions, Microsoft may have come out ahead. Industry analysts and executives apparently are having a hard time sympathizing with Google's grievance, which they view at best as minor.
Charlene Li, founder of technology research and advisory firm Altimeter Group, saw Google's actions as a misguided response to a real threat from a competitor in its core search business.
"Google isn't used to having competition. You look at this incident and you wonder why they are doing this. It feels amateurish in a way, a kind of 'they're not playing fair' attitude," she said.
"Instead of making your competition look bad, something like this makes you look petty," she said. "This doesn't reflect well on Google. I would think they would be above this."
Hotchkiss, who attended the Microsoft event, called "Farsight 2011: Beyond the Search Box," on Tuesday, cringed when Google officials made the copying accusation an issue on and off stage.