Microsoft Office ProPlus to switch Chrome search to Bing, and people are pissed

The change is designed to improve company-specific search results, but it also looks a lot like browser search hijacking.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
Microsoft's Bing search engine

Search Bing for "pissed off."

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Microsoft has triggered anger by announcing that an upcoming version of Microsoft Office 365 ProPlus will change Chrome users' default search engine to the company's own Bing. The change -- which in less generous terms is called "search hijacking" -- will start reaching Chrome users in February and will eventually show up in the Firefox browser, too.

The change is part of a new Microsoft effort to use Bing to deliver company-focused information within search results, touting the idea as a reason to use its freshly overhauled Edge web browser. With the search technology, you can find relevant documents, locate coworkers on campus maps and figure out your employer's org chart. But Google's search engine is far more widely used than Bing, and it's the default for Chrome and for Firefox users in the United States.

Microsoft plans to override those settings, though.

"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," Microsoft said last week. Microsoft's Office 365 ProPlus is a subscription version of the Office productivity tools that Microsoft updates frequently.

Lots of people don't like the change one bit. Comments to the Microsoft announcement include remarks like "malware behavior," "unacceptable" and "Are you out of your minds?" Critics also took to Reddit to complain of Microsoft's Bing search switch.

The move shows the power of default settings -- that many people will never take the trouble to change or may not be able to figure out how to change. But Microsoft is risking a lot in this case, since people who prefer Google's search engine aren't likely to appreciate Microsoft making a change that also benefits its own bottom line.

Microsoft didn't immediately comment on the anger triggered by the search switch. However, it did say in a statement that the company wants "to provide our customers with choice and customization based on their preferences, and have provided an option for both admins and users to opt out or change back search preferences by taking a few simple steps."

Search engines can generate a lot of ad revenue. That's why scammers write search-hijacking browser extensions that try to route your searches through their own interfaces. And it's why browser makers are getting prickly about it. Firefox, for example, will sometimes automatically reset search settings or prompt you if it thinks it's found a search-setting change it thinks you might not want.

The Microsoft announcement also includes instructions on how individuals or computer administrators can disable the setting. But that takes extra work.

"Now our IT department has to deal with additional unexpected work to mitigate something that nobody asked for," one commenter complained on Wednesday. "Meanwhile anyone that doesn't have an IT department to back them up is going to cause all sorts of confusion. Have you people seriously learned nothing from the last time you tried to force feed people with unwanted products?"

Originally published 11:54 a.m. PT.
Update, 12:19 p.m.: Adds Microsoft comment.

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