I thought I had malware on my main Windows 11 machine this weekend. There I was minding my own business in Chrome before tabbing back to a game and wham a pop-up appeared asking me to switch my default search engine to Microsoft Bing in Chrome. Stunningly, Microsoft now thinks it’s ok to shove a pop-up in my face above my apps and games just because I dare to use Chrome instead of Microsoft Edge.
This isn’t a normal notification, either. It didn’t appear in the notification center in Windows 11, nor is it connected to the part of Windows 11 that suggests new features to you. It’s quite literally a rogue executable file that has somehow appeared in c:\windows\temp\mubstemp and is digitally signed by Microsoft.
“We are aware of these reports and have paused this notification while we investigate and take appropriate action to address this unintended behavior,” says Caitlin Roulston, director of communications, in a statement to The Verge.
Screenshot by Tom Warren / The Verge
Screenshot by Tom Warren / The Verge
I have no idea why Microsoft thinks it’s ok to fire off these pop-ups to Windows 11 users in the first place. I wasn’t alone in thinking it was malware, with posts dating back three months showing Reddit users trying to figure out why they were seeing the pop-up.
I’m sure Microsoft is legally covered by the myriad of license agreements that nobody reads, but in reality I never knowingly consented to Microsoft abusing its ability to analyze my PC usage to show me a Bing pop-up just because I use Chrome with Google search.
This isn’t Microsoft’s first rodeo, either. I’m growing increasingly frustrated by the company’s methods of getting people to switch from Google and Chrome to Bing and Edge. Microsoft has been using a variety of prompts for years now, with pop-ups appearing inside Chrome, on the Windows taskbar, and elsewhere. Microsoft has even forced people into Edge after a Windows Update, and regularly presents a full-screen message to switch to Bing and Edge after updates.
Microsoft also started taking over Chrome searches in Bing recently to deliver a canned response that looks like it’s generated from Microsoft’s GPT-4-powered chatbot. The fake AI interaction produced a full Bing page to entirely take over the search result for Chrome and convince Windows users to stick with Edge and Bing.
Screenshot by Sean Hollister / The Verge
You’ve probably never seen this latest pop-up or even some of the ones in the past, and that’s because Microsoft only experiments with a small number of Windows users before there’s an outcry and the company pivots to try and find another way to nag Windows users. Microsoft even had to backtrack on plans to force the Chrome default search to Bing for businesses installing its Office apps.
You might argue that this is Microsoft’s operating system, or that when using Microsoft’s browser and search engine it’s well within its rights to try and sway people away from Chrome. After all, Google runs similar notifications on its webpages to get people to use Chrome or it’s annoying YouTube premium spam. But Microsoft’s behaviors here are totally beyond a simple webpage prompt. I shouldn’t have to be dismissing pop-ups that appear on top of my apps and games, or ones that magically appear after I update my copy of Windows.
Windows isn’t freeware, it requires a license that almost every consumer ultimately pays for. That could be in the form of the price of a laptop that has a Windows OEM license baked in, or a product key if you built your own PC. Microsoft should respect the fact that people already pay for Windows and don’t want ads shoved down their throats. Windows is an important productivity tool for many people, and shouldn’t be treated like a cheap streaming box loaded with ads.
I truly hope Microsoft changes its ways here, but this has been going on in several different forms for years now so I’m just counting the days until the next annoying pop-up appears.