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Microsoft Changing Users' Default Search Engine 389

BabyDuckHat writes "Cnet's Dennis O'Reilly caught 'Windows Search Helper' trying to change his default Firefox search from Google to Bing. This isn't the first time the software company has been caught quietly changing user's preferences to benefit its own products."
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Microsoft Changing Users' Default Search Engine

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  • by Nefarious Wheel ( 628136 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @07:36PM (#28566137) Journal
    This is on the exact same track as the behaviour that brought them their first major antitrust suit. Perhaps the Bing switch is "an essential part of the operating system". Bunk.
    • by seekret ( 1552571 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @07:40PM (#28566193)
      I'm sure they'll find some way of avoiding any type of legal problems, they always do.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Legal - Free legal advice, legal directory, legally blond staring Reese Witherspoon, LeGaL - Lesbian & Gay Law Association of Greater New York, legal sea foods, legal......

        Suffering from search overload? Only Bing knows how to keep you out of legal trouble.

      • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Friday July 03, 2009 @09:44AM (#28571047) Homepage Journal

        The secret, as in many business situations, is cash flow. As long as the cash is coming in, you can weather any storm. If you have better cash flow than the other guy, you can outlast him in a fight.

        If you look at a monopolist's legal expenses as a black box, cash spent on litigation, fines, and settlements is analogous to R&D. You put cash in on one end, you get ownership of a technology out the other. The companies you crush aren't going to rise from the dead. The stockholders are happy to get any cash they can out of a settlement, they aren't going to try to restart the company as a going to concern. Trying to win back ownership of some technical area once the monopolist is entrenched is not likely to be profitable; ownership of that area is more valuable to the monopolist has part of its portfolio than it is to the victim company's investors.

        So the monopolist goes on doing the illegal things it has always done, just different enough so that the next company in its sights has to assemble its case from scratch. That takes cash.

        Now we have an interesting situation with Google. Google has cash too: 17B to Microsoft's 23.9B. But here's something interesting: the current ratio. That's the ratio of short term assets (cash-like things) to short term liabilities. For Google, that's 10.1; for Microsoft that's 1.7. Microsoft has roughly twice the amount of cash on hand than it needs to keep running. That's healthy. Google, on the other hand has 10x the cash it needs to keep running. That's insanely healthy. It means they've got insane amounts of money to spend.

        If Microsoft manages to use its monopoly power to steal Google's business, this picture will change quickly. Google's revenues would dry up fast. So if there is some kind of illegal anticompetitive thing going on, Google had better react fast, but if it does, it has the cash to put up a good fight.

    • Nah...this definitely wasn't going to happen..I mean, they only failed to try and silently change the default browser, ya know...
    • by Brian Gordon ( 987471 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @07:51PM (#28566303)
      It's already hard enough to switch to Google. Why is the most popular search engine at the bottom of the list []? Could it be that it's weirdly labelled "Google Search Suggestions" unlike the very clear "Bing Search"? I thought that addon was just the suggestions the first time I saw it. If Google had started at the top then it would easily float there. Microsoft probably buried it so the Most Viewed providers would get viewed more and stay at the top.
      • Ock the Knife... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Animaether ( 411575 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @08:19PM (#28566599) Journal

        (subject line courtesy of "Journey of Man - A Genetic Oddysey")

        Could it be that that page is relatively new and most people who had IE7 went to a different page before* , where most people will have gotten their Google search provider; rather than this page.

        Could it be that most people already know Google (and likely already have it installed) and are less-inclined to click on it than the more exotic search providers?

        Could it be that Bing! was recently-launched, causing most people to click on it just to see what all the fuss was about?

        * The old page sucked quite badly as well. I wanted to add Google from a Dutch IE7, which landed me at an English-language search providers page, and after adding Google it always landed the machine at!). Took some manual registry mangling to get it to point to (not my machine, tyvm) instead. Looks like the IE8 points things to a dutch page, at least; though only 4 providers seem to be offered there... Wikipedia, Bing, 'Kenteken opzoeken' ( license plate search ) and Harware.Info price comparison visualiser, along with the 5th option of 'make your own search engine' (love the shoddy translations from English).

        Naw, you're right, they probably tried burying the Google option. That's probably why they list it twice, too ;)

        • by gsasha ( 550394 ) on Friday July 03, 2009 @03:22AM (#28569073) Homepage
          It is of course possible to formulate the selection criteria so that Google will come extremely unprominently shown somewhere at the bottom. Which Microsoft did in this case, quite successfully.

          I actively tried to switch the default search engine to Google, and guess what, it was hard to find even knowing what I'm looking about.

          If I was Google, I'd file an antitrust petition against this NOW.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by DrgnDancer ( 137700 )

          He's talking about the search bar that comes with IE (I think 7 and 8, but I am not sure about 7). It's like the search bar that comes with Firefox. Unlike the Firefox add-on though, which by default searches 7 different engines and has the capability to add literally hundreds more, the MS one by default only searches Bing and allows you add maybe 10 more. One of the ones you can add is Google, but as GP points out it's at the bottom of the list and not well labeled.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Funnily enough, clicking on any "Add to Internet Explorer" button in Firefox opened a window suggesting I install IE8 to use the feature - any button except for the button under Bing. That one opened a message box informing me that Firefox doesn't support this search provider.

      • Link to Page, funny (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Not sure if this is funny or sad. Seeing was believing:

        Search Box > "Find More Providers..."

        Takes you here:

        With the following
        Bing, NYT, Wikipedia, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, OneRiot, ESPN, Truveo, Google, Bidtopia, Freebase

        Go Freebase and Bidtopia, you *almost* caught Google. Keep up the good work!

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) *

        It's already hard enough to switch to Google.

        Nah. It's pretty damn painless [] actually.

      • by fullgandoo ( 1188759 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @11:38PM (#28568009)
        Still better that Safari on Mac which doesn't allow anything but Google as the search engine.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 02, 2009 @08:07PM (#28566473)
      Well I made the cardinal sin of reading the article. There is no proof and what he "found" was irrelevant. He said the warning came up about when he booted. Guess what? When you boot ALL the services that are installed and set to auto-start do something - they START. Microsoft didn't do this; at least you sure can't prove it by this idiot. He most likely has some stupid malware/spyware/crapware installed that did it. Shoot, you can post any poorly researched crap on the web these days and people will link to it as long as it says "MS is teh evil".

      I need to have Digg's "OK this is lame" to bury this article.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 02, 2009 @08:15PM (#28566557)

      If you actualy read the article, he admits he doesnt know what was trying to change the default search provider, or what it was being set to. All he knows is his google toolbar said a change was being made.

      Any atribution of this action to Microsoft, or that the provider was being set to Bing are suppositions - there is no evidence of that provided.

      • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @08:22PM (#28566629) Homepage

        If you actualy read the article, he admits he doesnt know what was trying to change the default search provider, or what it was being set to. All he knows is his google toolbar said a change was being made.

        Also, if you look at the timestamps, the Search shows up at 7:41:27.

        The oddly named "gupdate1c99e2ec" below it (as in "Google Update" maybe?) fired off at 7:41:26 -- precisely one second before it.

        Maybe he should be looking at items before that "gupdate" item to see what happened before that.

        (Now, I've had MS change my default browser before -- I'm just not convinced that what he's got shown matches what he saw.)


    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Wait, the guy has NO evidence that it was "Search" that changed it. Only that the entry is at the approximate time. But what else happened at that same time? Right before the supposed culprit is the google update service running. More likely what happened is that they (being google) changed the entry on their own which, while in the end would've still been google search, their own software detected as a change. Similar situation to a firewall having a rule to allow a certain exe access to the network,

  • Really? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Beatlebum ( 213957 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @07:38PM (#28566167)

    That's most surprising.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Someone needs to document the patches and the dates of all of the Microsoft 'anti-competive' user-preference changes through patching...

      I remember at least the following:

      1. reinstalling of MSN Messenger through a patch
      2. setting MSN Messenger to restart on boot even after preferences were turned off (after upgrading Outlook Express maybe)
      3. Setting homepage to '' or '' with any Internet Explorer upgrades
      4. MSN Explorer randomly appearing after uninstall
      5. Putting 'Free Hotmail' link back into

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by orngjce223 ( 1505655 )

        and the FF plugin ".NET Framework" that installed automatically and apparently can't be uninstalled...

        • Re:Really? (Score:5, Informative)

          by nabsltd ( 1313397 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @09:24PM (#28567121)

          Actually, Microsoft released a new version that can be uninstalled or disabled using the standard Firefox Add-Ons UI.

          But, the first version was pretty easy to took me about two minutes after the Firefox restart that highlighted the new add-on to find the registry entry (somewhere under the Mozilla key in the Software hive) and delete it.

  • BING (Score:5, Funny)

    by penguin_dance ( 536599 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @07:41PM (#28566205)

    BING = But It's Not Google

  • Google Owns Search (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jork ( 1330913 )
    When the general public think about searching the Internet they think of Google, even the phrase 'Google it' is fairly common. I wonder what the success rate is for this strategy?
    • by Brian Gordon ( 987471 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @07:56PM (#28566357)
      I doubt they would even notice anything different. They look for a box to type in words and blue text to click. And Bing's copycat style confuses even somewhat savvy users.

      Watch this [] and you'll see what I mean. People think Google is a web browser. They probably think Bing is part of Internet Explorer. And I'm sure the overwhelming majority of users have no idea they can change their default provider, or even what that means.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by williamhb ( 758070 )

      When the general public think about searching the Internet they think of Google, even the phrase 'Google it' is fairly common. I wonder what the success rate is for this strategy?

      It's not foolproof. In the UK, "hoovering" is a synonym for vacuum cleaning, but Hoover no longer dominate the vacuum cleaner market.

  • Wrong Summary! (Score:5, Informative)

    by hrieke ( 126185 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @07:43PM (#28566229) Homepage


    Please read the story yourself;
    It's not Firefox that Vista tries to change but IE8. Google's toolbar caught the action in IE8 and alerted him to the change. He then said that there was no alert option offered in Firefox's Google toolbar.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sexconker ( 1179573 )

      No, we need FUD.
      Also, we need idiots who use the Google toolbar in Firefox, apparently. Who the fuck uses that with FF?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by gbjbaanb ( 229885 )

        I do, you insensitive clod!!!

        I like the ability to click the 'word search' buttons for my search. The gmail button is nice too. Don't care about the rest though.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 02, 2009 @07:49PM (#28566287)

    Funny how "geeks" here accept such crappy evidence as proof of any wrong doing. What happened to the geeks to could reverse engineer executables and actually point to the specific CPU instruction that actually did it?

    Take the FUD surrounding DRM, take this crappy story, no geek has ever been able to point to that level of proof. Seems like the virus and malware authors being crappy programmers are happily able to reverse engineer windows binaries and find bugs.

    Seems like F/OSS world is filled with wussies who need source code to figure things out. Ever heard of a game crack author crying about not having source code? LOL.. turn in your geek cards...

    • by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @07:50PM (#28566291)

      What happened to the geeks to could reverse engineer executables and actually point to the specific CPU instruction that actually did it?

      They got legal threats after the DMCA was passed.

    • by Animaether ( 411575 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @08:06PM (#28566465) Journal

      The guy got this warning when he booted up his computer - then mentions that he didn't give permission to any search engine change. What, after he booted up? I guess not. Perhaps he did so before he shut it down? Perhaps he did so several days ago and whatever he installed* told him that the system would need rebooting to finish installation, and he ignored it (like most people).

      * I'm saying "whatever he installed" because I'm looking at my Vista Business N 32bit install with Internet Explorer 8 (upgraded from 7 a day or two back), and..
      - Google is still (it was in IE7) my first-listed search provider
      - I can find no "Windows Search Helper" service (there's a "Windows Search" service; different thing, presumably)
      - I can find no "Windows Search *anything*" in IE8's Add-ons list.

      Hitting Google with "Windows Search Helper" yields the story and... well.. supposed anti-malware sites that are ever-so-useful in telling me what it is or where it comes from (sarcasm.)

      So for all we know, he installed.. who knows what, something.. and that something may very well have asked him if he wanted to change the default search to Bing.

      I wouldn't put it past Microsoft to do something like this.. but as of yet, my Vista machine isn't showing any evidence of it; nor does the article.

      'course the other part of the article is 'sane'.. letting the google toolbar (if you have that installed anyway) make sure that your default search is Google if you're so-inclined as to have two search fields with the same provider (if I installed it, I'd set the IE8 one to Bing and leave the Google Toolbar one to Google, but that's me... then again, I tend to use Firefox), seems like a pretty good precaution to take.

      • It's part of Windows search. Every time I've accidentally installed that 'update' I see the Windows search helper, until I go and kill it off.

      • I don't see any proof that "Bing" was the search engine it tried to change it to. Just his "conclusion" it was Bing.

        Since I assume he didn't allow it to change it, he probably never did a search with the default changed. His SS's certainly don't show that it was Bing.
    • You sir, are dead on.

      The only thing worse than no security is the insecurity of paranoia.

    • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @08:53PM (#28566867)

      What happened to the geeks to could reverse engineer executables and actually point to the specific CPU instruction that actually did it?

            That sort of died out when video drivers hit 80MB, printer drivers hit 40MB, OSes hit 2+GB and god knows how many MB of bloated code are needed to switch a default search engine. I'd say at least 15MB. No one can be bothered to sift through all that shite anymore. It was easy when programs were 16k.

  • How is this news? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by basementman ( 1475159 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @07:49PM (#28566289) Homepage
    Software companies have been doing this for years. They get paid to bundle toolbars and other junk with legit software and unless you are careful and remember to untick the necessary check boxes they install. Ask has been the most recent offender in this area, doing it's best to carve out a small niche in the search market.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Most software companies though don't have something that ships with ~95% of all new PCs. Most software companies do not have monopolies. About the only widely used software that I think comes close to this is that Flash asks if you want the Google toolbar if you are installing on Windows. However, that still is different because Google and Adobe are not the same company.
  • by Queltor ( 45517 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @07:54PM (#28566331)

    There are some things Google does very well. Others, not so well.

    I'm using Bing now to see if I like it. It's like UNIX. It's like non-Apple MP3 players. I'll give the underdog a try so I don't have to be part of the herd. Besides, most popular doesn't always mean best.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by dangitman ( 862676 )
      That's hilarious. In order to "not be part of the herd", you're specifically allowing your choices to be dictated by said herd.
    • I'll give the underdog a try so I don't have to be part of the herd.

      Being contrarian just for the sake of it isn't a virtue. I know lots of people who do it just so they can act self-righteous.

  • On Tuesday Microsoft also pushed an update for their .Net runtime that again tried to install a some kind of Firefox extension. I had already removed this extension and the associated registry entry a few months ago when the latest .Net runtime was installed. Here they are doing it again.

  • Google does it too (Score:5, Informative)

    by LotsOfPhil ( 982823 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @07:59PM (#28566397)
    Picasa defaults to change your IE search to Google.
  • by Liquidrage ( 640463 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @08:01PM (#28566413)
    Well, I can't prove it based solely on the Event Viewer logs, but it's safe to say the search service is the prime suspect.

    His proof is the event view showing the MS Search service "starting". You know, the one that's actually for searching your own computer. And the timing of it was right after start-up.

    I'm not saying it was, or it wasn't. But his proof is flimsy at best. His conclusion something I expect from the typical college age /. reader that runs around wearing a T-shirt with a hidden message in binary on it, and refuses to play WoW on anything but a Mac so he can "stick it to the man".

    How about some actual proof of what happened. For all we know this tool downloaded something that asked him to change search engines and in his haste to get to porn (which btw Bing is king at), just clicked through without looking, and when he rebooted next time the change tried to happen. Or it could be that the MS Search service tried to hide a change. But I don't buy it based on his SS of a service starting (wow) and his own "jump" to a conclusion. Especially since if it were true there should be reports of it all over.
    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by gad_zuki! ( 70830 )

      Exactly, the search service is an indexing service. It has nothing to do with searching the web. Slashdot doesnt need proof, it needs its daily 3 minutes of hate.

  • by Ceseuron ( 944486 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @08:07PM (#28566477)

    I know I'll probably get modded as a troll for this, but the article doesn't offer any actual evidence that Microsoft is changing search engine preferences without users knowing it. Even the author himself doesn't say that there's conclusive evidence. He writes in his article:

    "Vista's Event Viewer identified the Windows Search Service as the likely source of the attempt to change my search default."


    "Well, I can't prove it based solely on the Event Viewer logs, but it's safe to say the search service is the prime suspect."

    The author of the article doesn't bother to conduct any meaningful research into the purpose of the Windows Search service or what it actually does []. Now I'm all for throwing the punches at Microsoft for the stupid crap they pull and I wouldn't put it past them to do something shady and underhanded like this. However, this article is little more than the rambling conjecture of a computer illiterate who can't tell the difference between a system service and an online search engine. If you're going to post articles about the devious, dirty deeds of Microsoft at least have the common sense to post articles with at least some level of truth behind them.

  • by fermion ( 181285 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @08:10PM (#28566509) Homepage Journal
    This is really annoying. If I pay for a machine, and I pay for the software. then I don't want it changing the options. I want to set what will happen. And I want it to work efficiently, without useless overhead put in simply to increase bragging rights of the vendor.

    I have noticed that IE7 and IE8, anything typed into the URL field will go to Bing, unless it is 100% qualified. I know MS has always wanted everything to go through it's servers, but now it seems it is getting more extreme. If you don't type in HTTP it will go to bing. I also recall a time, or maybe not, when you could the URL field to go to google. In any case, the idea that a URL will go to a search engine never made sense to me. If the URL is not sufficiently qualified, then it should return a 404. The security risk of expecting a URL to return something other than the intended target is certainly a securty risk.

    But no one else is any better. I have noticed on Adobe updates that they try to sneak in Yahoo tool bar. Apple will change the default browser to Safari with any little excuse, almost at every reboot. I don't know what google is doing, but since I prefer it to other things, I haven't had any issues in trying to get rid of it. I suspect when they begin to lose market share, all hell will break loose.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      There are OSes such as you are asking for. MS is just not one of them.

      If I pay for a machine, and I pay for the software. then I don't want it changing the options. I want to set what will happen. And I want it to work efficiently, without useless overhead put in simply to increase bragging rights of the vendor.

  • something changing his browser settings? And this made /. today? Is it THAT slow a news day in IT? Hell, if I wrote an article everytime something tried to change my browser settings, or install some search engine toolbar, I'd have to quit my job because I'd be writing articles all day.
  • by WarJolt ( 990309 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @08:20PM (#28566617)

    You can choose a different OS. I don't think Microsoft did anything wrong. As a consumer the responsibility of picking a product that behaves the way you want is in your hands.

  • by SEWilco ( 27983 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @09:15PM (#28567053) Journal
    I'm hardly surprised. For months, each (occasional) time that I start IE7 it asks me if I want to change my default search engine, and refuses to store my negative answer.
  • by melted ( 227442 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @10:21PM (#28567533) Homepage

    This is relatively innocuous, compared to the thing everyone seems to be missing - namely, IE8's default setting due to which (if you don't disable it during install) it will send all your search queries, browsed page URLs (except in HTTPS mode and on the intranet) and a few other bits and pieces of data to Microsoft for the purpose of "providing you with related sites". Of course the real purpose is to collect data to feed to Bing and adCenter.

    This is why Sergey Brin is running around scared, and this is why Google is releasing their own browser in a hurry (it too sends all your browsing data to Google, for the same purposes).

    You see, IE still has something like 70% marketshare, and all that browsing pattern data is hugely useful for things like:
    1. Discovering new sites not yet within the crawl graph
    2. Improving relevance of search results
    3. Fighting spam
    4. Establishing true popularity metrics for web resources.
    5. Extracting behavioral information for the purposes of ad targeting.
    6. Establishing (through correlation with a truth set) your gender, race, ethnicity, age, income bracket and preferences (for ad targeting, too).
    7. Geolocation
    8. Etc, etc.

    This means MSFT now has ginormous amounts of data it didn't have before, and it can sic their PHDs on it and "fucking kill Google". It is no coincidence that they pushed IE8 as a "mandatory" update. I will not be surprised in the least if within a year Bing has substantially higher relevance than everyone else.

    Google has no answer to this, short of paying Mozilla a ton of money to embed the same thing into Firefox. Since this pretty much amounts to spyware, I doubt Mozilla will go for it.

  • by Sir Holo ( 531007 ) on Friday July 03, 2009 @02:10AM (#28568791)
    Search something like "bill gates evil" in google and bing. Compare. Discuss.
  • Hope they... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hesaigo999ca ( 786966 ) on Friday July 03, 2009 @08:44AM (#28570535) Homepage Journal

    Hope they go to court over this and finally learn a hard lesson. You can't change the settings on a user's computer without his knowledge and approval. Doing so, makes you a criminal capable of going to jail .... if enough people set up a class action lawsuit, they WILL get M$ on this. Sony was caught and faced a big fine for doing this, as for M$ trying to use the old, well it's our OS and we can do what we want with it...those days are over as per the previous Anti trust case against them in EU.

    When will they learn, I guess we are doomed to repeat are

  • by viralMeme ( 1461143 ) on Friday July 03, 2009 @08:47AM (#28570553)
    It was just an accident, Microsoft have never stopped to manipulating the Windows paltform to give itself an unfair advantage ... :)
  • by Nishi-no-wan ( 146508 ) on Friday July 03, 2009 @09:07AM (#28570721) Homepage Journal

    I've had msnbot rejected from my site for many years. The just under a year ago I get a request from someone working for MSN Live Search asking to remove the block from robots.txt. I said, "no" and gave her the short version of my falling out with Microsoft (just the 1995 to 1998 subset).

    Then I started getting hits from Bing. Their support site only mentioned msnbot gathering information, so how did my site get index? Well, this had to stop.

    So, I wrote a filter that would redirect anything with a REFERER from to with the same search query. After running for a few weeks now, I see that some IP addresses never return, but most come back from Google - often with more specific search queries than the first time. I still haven't heard a word from the confused Bing users about it, though. So I'm guessing that it works well for keeping the completely clueless out.

UNIX is many things to many people, but it's never been everything to anybody.