Google accuses Bing of 'cheating,' piggybacking off its search results (updated)

You could say Bing is taking a cue from its competition, but it seems to be more literally taking search results as well. Google Fellow Amit Singhal is claiming so much and has provided some amusing (if not totally clever) results from its "Bing Sting." Here's how it works: find a search term that returns no matches for either site, make a "honeypot" page manually appear for the term, then have about 20 Google employees make the search (and click the top link) using Internet Explorer with both Suggested Sites and the Bing Toolbar on. Within two weeks, Singhal claims, a handful (about 7 to 9) of the 100 or so "honeypot" results were popping up in Bing. Bizarre choices, too, like mbrzxpgjys, hiybbprqag, and indoswiftjobinproduction.

So, is this "cheating," as Singhal specifically alleges? The experiment had to be run with Bing's toolbar and / or Suggested Search feature activated, which it explicitly says are used to collect data and improve services. And more popular search terms do return different results, It's not as if Microsoft is using non-public information, but is this an example of taking an unfair shortcut? That's a debate we imagine with rage for quite some time.

Update: Microsoft's been sending out the following statement from Stefan Weitz, director of Bing:

We use multiple signals and approaches in ranking search results. The overarching goal is to do a better job determining the intent of the search so we can provide the most relevant answer to a given query. Opt-in programs like the toolbar help us with clickstream data, one of many input signals we and other search engines use to help rank sites.

That's pretty ambiguous, so ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley pressed for a followup and was flatly told "We do not copy Google's results." We're sure there's going to be a lot more analysis and discussion to come -- this ought to be fun.