Microsoft backtracks on 'Bing-jacking' Chrome with its Microsoft Search extension

Sanity prevails: Microsoft is no longer planning to automatically deploy its Microsoft Search in Bing browser extension to Office 365 ProPlus users.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor
Credit: ZDNet

Microsoft is reversing course on a plan to auto-install a Microsoft Search extension for Office 365 ProPlus customers using Chrome. That Microsoft Search in Bing extension would have changed users' default search engine to Bing once it was installed. But "customer feedback" has yet again saved the day.

In late January, Microsoft announced its scheme to try to force more customers to try its Microsoft Search in Bing Intranet search capability. That plan requires users to have Bing set as their default engine. Knowing the majority of Chrome users have their default search engine set to Google, Microsoft came up with a way to try to "help" users have a chance to try the new Search by switching their search engines to Bing once the force-fed extension was installed. 

Microsoft officials said last month that they would begin installing the extension starting with Office 365 ProPlus version 2002, which it was going to roll out to customers in a handful of countries, including the U.S., starting in mid-February. The plan was to do the same with Firefox users. Today, February 11, Microsoft is notifying users that "based on your feedback," the company would be undoing the previously announced Microsoft Search in Bing extension plan.

The Microsoft Search in Bing browser extension now will not be automatically deployed with Office 365 ProPlus. Instead, admins will have a toggle in the Microsoft 365 admin center which will enable them to opt in to deploy the browser extension to their companies.

"In the near term, Office 365 will only deploy the browser extension to AD (Active Directory)-joined devices even within organizations that have opted in," officials said today. Microsoft is planning to add "specific settings" at some point in the future which will govern how the extension is deployed to unmanaged devices. Microsoft plans to provide an updated timeline as to when it will offer the Bing extension "over the next few weeks."  

Update (February 13): In asking around about that rather confusing first sentence in the paragraph above, I have heard that Microsoft means that it will only deploy the browser extension to AD-joined devices if -- and only if -- a company's admin(s) opt in. If they don't opt-in, it won't be coming to Office 365 ProPlus users, period.

As Microsoft officials said previously, admins can head off the deployment of this extension using group policy tools. And users can change their search engine choice back if the extension is deployed to their PCs, though not very easily.
Microsoft's plan to forcibly install the Microsoft Search in Bing extension was received poorly by many admins and customers. The move resulted in Microsoft Office 365 ProPlus being added to the Wikipedia article on browser hijacking. (That reference has since been removed.)

While it's good Microsoft has bowed to customer pressure on this, one has to wonder how this kind of policy was pushed through with no warning in the first place. It's not the first time Microsoft has had to undo a badly received decision in the past several months. Late last yea, Microsoft walked back the decision to allow users to circumvent admins to buy and deploy Power Platform tools. Last summer, Microsoft halted plans to remove internal usage rights from partner plans after widespread complaints by many of its resellers and integrators.

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