You could say that Bing has been engaged in the sincerest form of flattery. But the company making this observation – Google – would probably not phrase things so nicely.

Tuesday morning, Google alleged that Microsoft’s Bing has been using that company’s Internet Explorer browser and Bing toolbar to gather intelligence on Google’s search results, then refine its own findings accordingly.

As explained in a long post by Search Engine Land editor Danny Sullivan, Google set out to prove this by artificially inserting results in response to near-gibberish searches and then seeing if Bing would yield the same links in response to the same queries.

Sullivan’s piece and a later item on Google’s own blog show the results in pairs of screenshots. Each post illustrates how a search on a misspelled or made-up word — “torsoraphy” or “hiybbprqag,” for instance — yielded similar links both on an adulterated Google results page and in Bing’s normal search.

Microsoft representatives didn’t deny the practice to Sullivan, but said it was only a minor ingredient in Bing’s search stew. In a post on the Bing blog later Tuesday, Harry Shrum, a Microsoft vice president, called Google’s expose “a spy-novelesque stunt to generate extreme outliers.”

It’s not sportsmanlike behavior for one search engine to copy another’s results, but this isn’t sports or even a nice game of chess. It’s a business with a lot of money at stake.