Is Microsoft Using ‘Dark Patterns’ Tactics to Push Bing?

Microsoft continues to engage in borderline 'dark pattern' marketing tactics in an effort to pull users away from Google's products....
Is Microsoft Using ‘Dark Patterns’ Tactics to Push Bing?
Written by Matt Milano
  • Microsoft continues to engage in borderline ‘dark pattern’ marketing tactics in an effort to pull users away from Google’s products.

    Once feared for its anti-competitive tactics, Microsoft has spent years reforming its image and establishing a reputation as a company interested in working with regulators rather than being at odds with them. The company has also embraced open standards and worked with competitors rather than trying to destroy them.

    Unfortunately, Microsoft seems hell-bent on squandering the goodwill it has gained with tactics that can only be described as borderline ‘dark patterns,’ a terms used to describe tactics that trick a consumer into doing something they would normally not do. Dark pattern tactics have become such an issue that the FTC has begun targeting companies that engage in them.

    According to Windows Latest, Microsoft is showing a popup notification to Chrome users on Windows, encouraging them to use Bing instead of Google. The notification touts the benefits of using ChatGPT within Chrome. If a user clicks on “Yes,” Microsoft installs a Chrome extension that changes the default search engine, as well as turns on chat history and notebook.

    Once the extension is installed, Chrome warns the user that the extension changed the default search engine. If the user opts to change it back, Microsoft pops up another message saying: “Wait–don’t change it back!” The popup then goes on to warn that changing back to Google will cause the user to lose out on their AI chats.

    “This is a one-time notification giving people the choice to set Bing as their default search engine on Chrome. For those who choose to set Bing as their default search engine on Chrome, when signed in with their MSA they also get more chat turns in Copilot and chat history,” Microsoft told Windows Latest.

    “We value providing our customers with choice, so there is an option to dismiss the notification,” the company added.

    The FTC’s definition of dark patterns is worth reading, especially in the context of Microsoft’s behavior:

    The dark pattern tactics detailed in the report include disguising ads to look like independent content, making it difficult for consumers to cancel subscriptions or charges, burying key terms or junk fees, and tricking consumers into sharing their data. (Italics ours)

    While Microsoft may not be charging to use Bing, there is no doubt the company is tricking users into switching to its search engine and AI chatbot, and sharing their data in the process. The fact that trickery features so prominently in Microsoft’s campaign would certainly seem to qualify as dark patterns under the FTC’s definition.

    The FTC has already gone after Amazon and Epic for using dark patterns. Perhaps Microsoft should be its next target.

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