How Microsoft Sucks People In
29 November 2021
The last big US antitrust case, started in 1998, saw Microsoft accused of using monopoly power to bully collaborators and squelch competitors. Now antitrust is back in fashion, and with most eyes on Facebook and Google, Microsoft are getting away with similar but more subtle ways of suppressing choice and competition.
At Mojeek we believe that consumers and businesses should have freedom to choose. With that freedom healthy and fair competition flourishes, and we all benefit. This is why we stand together with other challengers to Microsoft in a “Coalition for a Level Playing Field”; a new group at launch of 26 European IT businesses and 4 NGOs/Industry Bodies. Together we call on the EU and governments to support choice and competition for consumers, by taking action against Microsoft to level the playing field.
Microsoft push, even impose, products like 365, OneDrive, Teams, Bing, and most notably Windows on users. They do so in unseen ways and using tactics like bundling, embedding, defaults, and opaque partnering. We are particularly keen to support the leaders of this coalition, Nextcloud, who have great products that compete with Microsoft. We use them ourselves along with other self-hosted tools. NextCloud Hub is a key part of that with NextCloud Files for file sync, sharing and storage and NextCloud Talk for communications. We recommend you consider them as alternatives to Microsoft and Google cloud services. Nextcloud have written about how Microsoft uses their tactics to push 365, OneDrive and Teams.
Here we will discuss how Microsoft use similar and other tactics with Bing. Bing, their search offering, has many faces and hands. Faces you may not recognise and some naughty hands that they play with.
Bing Through the Looking Glass
First some credit is in order: Bing is doing a valuable and great job of challenging the damaging monopoly that is Google search, and probably a much better one than you think. The top 6 so-called search engines in Europe are Google, Bing, Yandex, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo and Ecosia. In reality is this is a top 3, since Yahoo, DuckDuckGo and Ecosia are syndication partners of Bing. When you see search results and ads on those, the chances are that they are supplied by Microsoft. Consequently Google and Microsoft control more than 98% of the European consumer web search market between them. Is it healthy that European society, businesses and organisations use two US AI brains as a lens on web information?
We think search diversity is really important. It is one of the big reasons we have stayed completely independent at Mojeek. We also think search objectivity is vital. This is undermined through “personalisation” and “targetting”, using your personal data. Done at scale, and through two surveillance capitalists Google and Microsoft, it leads to informational bubbles that manipulate your pathways in subtle ways. Ways that are far less obvious than on social media. In contrast with Mojeek you are not tracked. We respect your privacy and defend your right to see objective results.
Let’s not forget that Microsoft, Google and Apple have built a multi-layer World Wide Wall; of browsers, operating systems (OS) and devices to keep out competition in search. All three prevent, block and deter users from enjoying search choice as we explained before (tip: this post shows you a way to escape their rabbit holes). As NextCloud points out Microsoft, Google and Amazon are doing the same in cloud services.
Microsoft even go so far as to ignore your choice of search engine on Windows. If you search the Web from the Windows, you are shown in the Search Box results from Bing, even when you have selected a different default search engine in the Edge browser. In that Search Box you are offered the option of displaying the results in Edge. If you do that, the search results you will get are again from Bing and completely ignore the choice of search engine you make in Edge. As you might expect by now, you can’t specify a choice of browser to open up the Search Box results.
Search in the Windows looking glass and all you are offered is a Bing rabbit hole, direct via Edge. This is pure coercion.
Search Independence and Choice
At Mojeek we have taken the hard but important road of building our own infrastructure, crawler, index, algorithms and search ads. Those using Mojeek tell us, and we know, that our search quality is variable. But it improves as we get more feedback, crawl more of the open web, grow our index and improve our algorithms. We do this as a small team that makes ethical choices and avoids using tools and tactics which work against user freedoms.
Choice is good; individuals can choose to support us and other challengers. It falls to governments to act on Microsoft and promote choice by levelling the playing field.
29 November 2021