Microsoft Tries to Boost Microsoft Search in Bing with Chrome Extension

Coming Soon to Office 365 Tenants in an Office ProPlus Update MC201872

I am bemused by Microsoft’s announcement (MC201872 and roadmap item 59917) that they intend to install a browser extension to make Bing the default search engine for Google Chrome. The proclaimed intention is to bring the benefits of Microsoft Search to Chrome users by using Bing to include Office 365 data alongside other search results, if you sign into Office 365 with the browser.

The extension comes in Office 365 ProPlus (click to run) and is installed when ProPlus is updated on a workstation. The first installations will happen with the Monthly Channel update on Patch Tuesday in February 2020.

Reassuringly, Microsoft points out that “Microsoft Search does not use searches in your organization to improve public web results or to improve Bing, and Microsoft Search does not let advertisers target anyone within your organization.” And to prove that it’s not just Chrome that they want to upgrade, Microsoft says that “support for Firefox is planned.”

Nothing is said about other Chromium-based browsers like the new Edge or Brave, nor is anything planned for other browsers supported by Office 365 like Safari, the old Edge, or Internet Explorer.

Country-Specific Deployments

Microsoft plans to use the IP address of users to install the extension in a select group of countries including the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and India. Quite why Ireland was left off the list is beyond me, but Microsoft says that they will add more countries in the future.

Blocking Microsoft Search in Bing

If tenants don’t want to deploy the extension with ProPlus updates, they can use the Office Deployment Tool or Group Policies to block it. Tenants that use Microsoft Endpoint Configuration or Intune can also update settings to block the extension. Microsoft points out that “implementing the exclusion after the extension has been installed will not remove the extension.” In other words, you have one shot to stop infection.

If the extension is installed, users can disable it by togging the Use Bing as your default search engine option in the extension (available to the right of the URL bar). Rather alarmingly, you won’t be able to choose another search engine in browser preferences.

Doubtful Tactics

As I point out in an article on Microsoft Search by Bing, there are advantages in having results from Office 365 (SharePoint, OneDrive for Business, Teams, Yammer, but not email) presented alongside results from elsewhere in the web. Figure 1 shows how Office 365 results appear in Chrome.

Microsoft Search in Bing shows Office 365 results
Figure 1: Microsoft Search in Bing shows Office 365 results (image credit: Tony Redmond)

Useful as it is to be able to search Office 365 alongside the rest of the web, I think Microsoft is going too far by forcing the installation of an extension for Office ProPlus users. Apart from overriding a perfectly rational decision by users or a complete organization to favor another search engine, suddenly finding that Bing is used and that Office 365 results are shown will cause problems for users and help desk alike (not everyone reads notifications as assiduously as we do).

Controlling Microsoft Search in Bing

This is another example where Microsoft should invite Office 365 tenants to opt-into a feature rather than having to opt-out. The easy solution would be to use the existing setting to control Microsoft Search in Bing in the Microsoft 365 Admin Center (Figure 2). If the setting is On, then install the extension on the basis that the tenant has already indicated their willingness to include Office 365 results in search. If Off, leave the chosen search engine alone.

Enabling Microsoft Search by Bing for an Office 365 tenant
Figure 2: Enabling Microsoft Search by Bing for an Office 365 tenant (image credit: Tony Redmond)

The setting to control Microsoft Search in Bing only appears in the older version of the Microsoft 365 Admin Center. For some reason, the newer version doesn’t include the setting. But that’s an easy change for the world’s largest software company to make.