Microsoft has begun rolling out a Chrome extension that will force Microsoft Office 365 ProPlus customers to use Bing as a search engine, even if they’ve previously chosen to use Google. The update currently only applies to Office 365 ProPlus customers.
Here’s Microsoft on the “benefits” of this move:
Starting with Version 2002 of Office 365 ProPlus, an extension for Microsoft Search in Bing will be installed that makes Bing the default search engine for the Google Chrome web browser. This extension will be installed with new installations of Office 365 ProPlus or when existing installations of Office 365 ProPlus are updated. If Bing is already the default search engine, the extension doesn’t get installed.
By making Bing the default search engine, users in your organization 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 Search is part of Microsoft 365 and is turned on by default for all Microsoft apps that support it. (emphasis added)
Whenever I think about this kind of change, I always think about Google Plus. A few weeks ago, I referenced a story written at The New Republic called “The Death of the Good Internet was an Inside Job.” He places this death — the point at which Google began operating products more for its own benefit than for its users — at July 1, 2013, the day Google killed Google Reader. I might have picked an earlier date — the day Google decided that it would start showing results from your personal Google Plus feed alongside your internet search results. At the time, here’s how Google’s Larry Page described its Search Plus Your World feature: “This is the path we’re headed down – a single unified, ‘beautiful’ product across everything. If you don’t get that, then you should probably work somewhere else.”
The reason I hated the SPYW feature — and I loathed it, passionately — is because it demonstrated what I felt was a deliberate misunderstanding of how people search for information. When I search my PC, I’m searching for the documents and files that I know I store on my PC. If I search the broader internet, I’m looking for an entirely different set of data. If I search Facebook, I’m looking for a third type of information. If I want to know what my cousin John said to Brenda, I look on FB. If I’m looking for the historic development timeline of ARM microprocessors, I look online. The last thing I want is to be digging through one “bucket” of data when I’m actually looking for the other.
The YouTube / Google Plus user ID controversy is probably the issue people remember from the entire disaster that was Google Plus, but the SPYW rollout was the first time I felt the company was deliberately making its keystone product worse in the name of driving revenue and engagement with its own social network.
Attempting to Avoid Google Plus’s Mistakes
I’ll give Microsoft credit — they’ve attempted to learn from Google’s mammoth, public screw-ups. After Google Glass gave rise to an unfortunate sobriquet, Microsoft’s HoloLens had a very limited, business-centric rollout. Using AR to examine 3D model mock-ups might not be as immediately relatable as sending a photo to a friend, but it proved much less divisive with the public.
Here’s how Google integrated results from services like SPYW:
And here’s Microsoft’s business-centric effort to perform the same task:
This is… better, I suppose. It’s a touch creepy to see this kind of info, but the goal is to restrict it to business data and use-cases, rather than handing out personal information like this to anyone who bings googles you. At the same time, however, users tend to hate it when companies change their default browsers without permission. And it doesn’t look as if this is an optional feature at the business level — you can reset your browser choice after the extension changes it, assuming you’re allowed to do so, but you can’t prevent the change from being made in the first place.
Here’s how Microsoft describes this service:
Microsoft Search accesses files, SharePoint sites, OneDrive content, Teams and Yammer conversations, and other shared data sources in your organization, as well as the internet… Microsoft Search is turned on by default in Microsoft 365, so no initial setup is required. But you can enhance the search experience for your users by adding content, such as bookmarks, Q&As, acronyms, building locations, and floor plans.
Instructions are also given in the same blog post for how to prevent this extension from being installed. Again, this is something Microsoft is only rolling out for ProPlus customers, but MS does note that you’ll need to take action to block this update from being installed before it actually drops (early March 2020 is the target date).
End users appear to be completely against this change. None of the comments at the MS page or Office Deployment Insiders are positive. Whether its Microsoft’s decision to install extensions without permission or what the company is actually doing, nobody appears to like or want this change.
So much for the idea that MS was turning over some kind of new leaf when it came to advertising its products.
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