Opposition grows to Microsoft's make-Chrome-use-Bing plan for Office 365 customers
Microsoft's scheme to switch Chrome from its designated search choice to Bing was part
of the firm's Microsoft Search strategy.
"By making Bing the default search engine, users in your organisation with Google Chrome
will be able to take advantage of Microsoft Search, including being able to access relevant
workplace information directly from the browser address bar," Microsoft contended in a
January 23 support document.
Microsoft Search, which the company unveiled in May 2019, was designed to make search
in the enterprise — in Microsoft-made and third-party applications — more productive.
Rather than return just website links, Microsoft Search would find information from files and
those applications' content, bringing to the forefront not only matches and near matches but also
what the algorithms believed the user really was after. In Edge, the service is dubbed "Microsoft
Search in Bing."
Microsoft Search is a key component of Microsoft 365, the über subscription that bundles
Office 365, Windows 10 and management tools, and appears to be a major initiative. One
way to gauge the latter: the comprehensive Microsoft Search in Bing adoption kit, a cache
of email, poster and evaluation templates companies can use to educate workers on the service
and convince them to try it.
Apparently, Microsoft was so set on spreading the new search service that it decided to force it
on those enterprise users — the ones running Office 365, anyway — who have Chrome as their
default browser. Microsoft made this decision even though it had to know that the plot would
receive serious pushback and could easily guess the forms of that criticism.
Not surprisingly, much of the blowback equated the unsolicited search change to the practices
of malware makers and scammers. "Force-changing the settings on a user for arbitrary reasons
circles the drain of 'unlawful,' and is effectively browser hijacking," said someone labeled only
as camxct on GitHub, where comments attached to support documents appeared.
"Browser hijacking like in the 90s. Are you nuts?" asked kgbvax, perhaps not rhetorically.
The phrase "browser hijacking" — and others, including PUP, for "potentially unwanted program"
— harked back years to a time when that practice was common.
Malicious actors would infect a system with malware that changed a browser's settings — typically
its default search engine and/or home page — to drive traffic to specific sites where they could collect
Google spent significant time and effort in blocking hijackers from taking over Chrome and in
barring unofficial add-ons — those not hosted in the Chrome Web Store, more or less — from
installing, all part of a years-long process to lock down the browser.
Now, Microsoft is attempting to do to Chrome just what Google has tried to stop.
Others swore revenge. "This really makes me regret pushing Office 365 so hard where I work.
You guys are putting egg on my face," wrote Daniel Prince on the User Voice site. "I'm in charge
of 90,000 Windows and Mac devices. Next week, we are blocking Bing.com at the firewall level.
Hope this little stunt you pulled was worth it."
Microsoft's add-on has already appeared on Google's Chrome Web Store, hinting that Google
at least implicitly approved of the extension. Dubbed Microsoft Search in Bing quick access, it
was updated as recently as today.
A pair of users objected to the extension in the Store, too. "Unwanted plugin, should not be allowed
to install without consent," argued Michael Studte. "Mess with Chrome Edge all you want, but don't
touch non-Microsoft browsers!"
Neither Google or Mozilla replied to requests for comment on Microsoft's plan to issue add-ons
for Chrome and Firefox in new installations of Office 365 ProPlus and the next update to ProPlus.