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Microsoft blocks alternative search engines from Cortana

by on29 April 2016

Claims it is protecting users, mostly from malicious engines

On Thursday, in a move that may upset some Windows 10 users, Microsoft began systematically blocking all search engines other than Microsoft Bing for use with its Cortana search box and Edge web browser, citing reasons including reliability and "search experience unpredictability."

The company is now on track to clash with major brand names including Opera, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Yandex, Baidu, and even its older IE web browser over Cortana search engine freedom and company data collection. Previously, it was possible to change Windows 10 system settings to enable non-Microsoft search engines within the company's Cortana assistant feature.

The policy decision comes at a time when Microsoft is aggressively pushing its customers to upgrade to Windows 10, in some cases automatically upgrading Windows 7 users without their awareness via update KB3035583, now listed as an "Important" patch. Regardless of any perceived strategy antics, Microsoft is claiming that it wants to deliver an integrated search experience designed for Windows 10. As such, Cortana searches will now default to opening with Microsoft Edge and it appears will be the only choice for users going forward.

"To ensure we can deliver the integrated search experience designed for Windows 10, Microsoft Edge will be the only browser that will launch when you search from the Cortana box," said Ryan Gavin, general manager of search marketing, Microsoft company blog post.

With user privacy and data collection policies taken into consideration, this can be concerning as the company now intends to route search traffic directly through its own analytics servers. Of course, all major search engines collect basic anonymous information about their users for basic ranking, insights and analytics. But it appears the only alternative at this point is to competely disable Cortana and disable behavior and activity tracking.

For those seeking the alternative option, disabling Cortana can be accomplished in two steps. The first step is to click the Start menu, typing any word into the search bar, clicking the gear-shaped "Settings" icon, and disabling all three Cortana search options. The second step is to run a simple, run-once utility like TotalDefense Privacy Shield and block Cortana activity tracking, along with a few simple but preventable telemetry data collection procedures.

"Unfortunately, as Windows 10 has grown in adoption and usage, we have seen some software programs circumvent the design of Windows 10 and redirect you to search providers that were not designed to work with Cortana. The result is a compromised experience that is less reliable and predictable. The continuity of these types of task completion scenarios is disrupted if Cortana can’t depend on Bing as the search provider and Microsoft Edge as the browser. The only way we can confidently deliver this personalized, end-to-end search experience is through the integration of Cortana, Microsoft Edge and Bing – all designed to do more for you."

In a not-so-completely totalitarian move, Microsoft will still allowing users the option to choose any compatible search engine in Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer and any other installed browsers, only with the exception of Windows 10's Cortana search box going forward.

Last modified on 29 April 2016
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