If you’re one of the billion-plus users of Google Chrome on Windows, then you have just been warned that what might look like malware hijacking your browser is not what it seems…

Google Chrome dominates the desktop browser market, which means it’s the default for a billion-plus Windows users—almost all of whom also default to Google for their search.

This situation appears to irk Microsoft, and the company seemingly can’t understand why all those (Microsoft) Windows users don’t also use (Microsoft) Edge as their browser and (Microsoft’s) Bing as their search engine. They’d like to remedy this. And the thing about captive audiences…

Last month, I reported that Mozilla (another also ran behind Chrome in the browser market) had commissioned independent research that warned Window’s Chrome users that they would be inundated with “switch to Edge” banners and pop-ups when they installed Chrome. That same report also warned that Bing messages were being targeted at those same users.

A month later and here we are again. Users on Reddit and elsewhere are warning that a new Bing popup is such an irritant that it looks like malware. It’s safe—that’s not the issue. It’s a persistent ad pushing Chrome users away from Google towards Bing, which is a different kind of problem.

According to The Verge, “Microsoft has confirmed that the pop-ups are genuine and should only appear once.” The company’s spokesperson even suggested that Chrome users were being offered some kind of Microsoft freebie here, in the form of Co-Pilot (aka ChatGPT) prompts. “We value providing our customers with choice, so there is an option to dismiss the notification.”

Despite that assurance, online comments suggest this Bing promotion echoes the persistence of the Edge push that hit the headlines last month, and which included an “error” on Microsoft’s part—since fixed, where Edge was copying across Chrome settings without user permission.

The issue of course is that Microsoft banners and popups for those running Windows come across as OS notifications, not just marketing. As the researchers behind Mozilla’s report last month warned, “users may be alarmed when they see the Edge promotional message appear within the Chrome download page, reasoning that since the banner is unusual it must be very important.”

That same theme fuels comments online. One Reddit user complained that “a computer OS should not be a sales platform, and should not be an advertising platform for the company’s other products. This kind of thing is disgusting and shouldn’t be allowed.” While another posted: “Microsoft, seriously. Find those ‘Microsoft Support’ people hidden in your campus and get them out. You are seriously blurring the line between being a credible software vendor and malware as you go along.”

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Tom Warren writing in The Verge takes a similar view. “I’ve been growing increasingly frustrated with Microsoft’s attempts to aggressively push pop-up ads on Chrome users in recent years… Microsoft even once forced people into Edge after a Windows Update, and it regularly presents a full-screen message to try to get Windows users to switch to Bing and Edge after updates are applied.”

There’s an irony here, of course. This is playing out even as Europe’s DMA and regulators elsewhere tighten the focus on so-called gatekeeper technology vendors—including Microsoft and Google. But here—despite Microsoft’s dominance in its Windows desktop OS and in elements of AI, when it comes to Edge and Bing, they’re minor players. Where those Microsoft platforms are chasing Chrome and Google Search, Microsoft is David to Google’s Goliath.

And so, for the time being if you’re using Chrome and Google Search, you’ll just have to ignore the banners and popups, unless of course you buy into the marketing and want to make the switch. In which case all you need to do is click. Microsoft has made it that easy, which is kind of the point.

I have reached out to Microsoft for any comments on these user complaints.

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