FRAMINGHAM 2 FEBRUARY 2011 - When involved in a spat over allegations of unauthorized copying or misappropriation of content and ideas, Google -- fairly or not -- usually plays the villain, accused of parasitically overstepping boundaries to profit from someone else's work.
But on Tuesday, Google's role was reversed. It irately charged Microsoft with sneakily capturing the top Google results for various queries and grafting them into the Bing search engine. It lobbed its complaint in an article on the Search Engine Land blog and continued it during an onstage panel at a search event.
While the merits of Google's accusation are up for debate -- Microsoft denies the charge -- the fact that Google chose to complain in such a loud and agitated manner has become fertile ground for analysis and comment by industry observers.
Opinions range from those who view Google's actions as hypocritical to others who say the company did the right thing by airing its grievance.
Between the two extremes is plenty of speculation. For example, some wonder if the incident reflects a new, more reactive attitude toward slights emanating from Larry Page, the Google co-founder who will become CEO in April and is considered more volatile and less diplomatic than outgoing CEO Eric Schmidt.
"Google's complaint is the height of hypocrisy. The company's entire business model is built on the use of other people's content usually without bothering to seek permission," said John Simpson, from Consumer Watchdog's Inside Google research team.
Google's allegations are an attempt to make Microsoft look bad for doing what every search provider does constantly: analyze competitors' search engines, he said.
"Google's effort to 'trap' Microsoft was a stupid waste of energy that would have been better spent figuring out ways to give consumers true options to protect their online privacy," Simpson said via e-mail.
In a blog post, Roughly Drafted Magazine publisher Daniel Eran Dilger sounded a similar note. "Google copies every original idea it can find, like a massive information sponge, sucking up business models and innovative creations and forming its own duplicates, often with little success," he wrote.
"Google is the world's largest information thief, steamrolling partners, content creators and competitors alike under its concept of the wheels of progress, justifying its dealings as being a free remix and expression of ideas. That's all fine and good if you don't complain about other people also taking the information you publicly offer without a license and then remixing it themselves," he added.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.