If you read Search Engine Land (and you probably should), over the past couple of weeks you’ve been able to watch the he-said she-said drama of Bing and Google throwing mud at each other.  Google accused Bing of stealing their results, Bing accused Google of copying their tactics, and the search world has been sitting back and watching as the two heaviest of the search heavyweights punch each other repeatedly in the face.

Today, Danny Sullivan got an answer to a fairly important question: does Google use its own toolbar, as it accuses Microsoft of doing with Internet Explorer, to look at searches on other engines, thus “stealing” competitors’ results?  Apparently, although they do use toolbar data in their search algorithms, they don’t use Bing searches as an indicator.

You can read Danny’s full writeup for the deeper details.  Our little contribution to the story is a quick look at just how prevalent the Google toolbar really is.  Of all Google traffic coming through the Chitika ad network, about 4.6% were from Google’s toolbar installed into a web browser.  Naturally, this implies that Google’s installed toolbar user base is much higher than 5%, as no user performs all of his or her searches from a single location.

This does throw the potential for cross-copying into sharp perspective; even if you assume the Google toolbar to be installed on 15% of home computers (a number we’ll try to bring you at some point), it still doesn’t come close to the number of Internet Explorer installations, which seems to be what Google suspects Microsoft is using to observe and capture users’ searches.

For once, in this debate Google doesn’t come across as the 800 pound gorilla.  In some ways, it’s refreshing to see a vision of old-school competition-hating Microsoft; it’s a bit of a throwback to the Internet bubble days.  Going forward, it will be very interesting to see what becomes of this ongoing PR kick-boxing match.

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