Microsoft announced today that, beginning in February 2020, Office365 Pro Plus installs and updates will include a Chrome extension that forcibly changes the default search engine to Microsoft’s own search engine, Bing.
The change takes place beginning with Version 2002 of Office 365 Pro Plus, and it will affect both new installations and existing installations as they’re automatically updated. If your default search engine is already Bing, Office365 will not install the extension. Users who don’t enjoy the arbitrary unrequested change to their defaults can opt out by finding and changing a toggle which the extension also adds to the browser, or the extension itself can be removed, either manually or programmatically.
This new policy only takes places in specific geographic areas, as determined by a user’s IP address. If you aren’t in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, the UK, or the United States, you should be safe—for now, at least, and assuming you don’t take your laptop on holiday or work-related travel to one of those countries during a time an Office update rolls out. Microsoft says it may add new locations over time but will notify administrators through the Microsoft 365 admin center if and when it does.
Predictably, the unruly denizens of Reddit’s r/sysadmin—arguably, the closest thing the modern Internet has to the scary devil monastery—are unhappy. The change is seen as invasive and uncalled for, and most of the comments being made by professional system administrators fall into a few distinct categories: unprintable profanity aimed in Microsoft’s general direction, speculation on how much the fines from the European Union will cost the company when it’s sued, and instructions on various ways to prevent the unwanted installation from disrupting their organizations.
Microsoft’s actual stated reasoning for the change is to automatically enable Microsoft Search within the user’s browser. This adds Microsoft Search results to standard Internet search results when a user types a string into the browser’s address bar—meaning the search results will be populated by hits from internal documents, emails, Teams conversations, and more. However, the Microsoft Search results won’t actually populate unless the user has specifically signed into Bing with their Office 365 account. So it’s questionable how “automatic” this will really be for users who’d been using Chrome or some other search engine in the first place.
Aside from the potential to enrage sysadmins and users alike, we question the wisdom of conditioning users to search for internal, likely confidential data in their Web browser’s general-purpose search bar. We also question Microsoft’s own language about the change. One section of the announcement opens with the statement “If you decide to deploy Microsoft Search in Bing in your organization, we recommend that you at least send an email to your users to explain…” This would be a reasonable thing to say about an opt-in change, but it seems facile when applied to a change that requires specific preparation on an organization’s part to prevent from happening in the first place.
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