Bing threatens the future of online searches

Bing threatens the future of online searches

Google is usually blamed for the lack of competition in the online search industry. The US government has even sued the giant in an effort to curb its monopolistic tactics, including making its search engine the default within Android, Chrome and Safari, and other popular software.

But some emerging search engines that are trying to win over users by offering more privacy protections or ad-free searches argue that the latest threat comes not from Google , but from Microsoft and Bing , the company's search engine.

Startups in the sector have long relied on licenses that allow them to use Bing search results and thus take advantage of a wider web indexing activity than a small company would be able to afford. and then add its own features and methods to parse queries. But Microsoft's launch of a chatbot for Bing based on the technology behind ChatGpt has sparked fears that, in an effort to steal further market share from Google, the company is penalizing companies that rely on its data. research .

Microsoft's new policies

A week after launching the Bing chatbot integration in February, Microsoft announced that starting in May, standard rates for its research will increase up to tenfold. The company also added a new rule, which went into effect immediately, which startups say prevents smaller companies from competing with Bing's chatbot or Bard, the rival version developed by Google.

This rule imposes much higher prices -  potentially 28 times higher than the previous rates - to any Microsoft client that offers users Bing results  on a page that also shows content from linguistic models of large size (Llm), the technology behind ChatGpt and the new Bing. To launch a search chatbot powered by an LLM, a startup would have to pay up to $200 per thousand Bing queries, up from $7 previously or $25 under the new pricing set to go into effect in May. Entrepreneurs in the online search industry using Microsoft data and hoping to offer AI-powered features call the new rates unaffordable. Microsoft's search chatbot is not currently offered to API customers.

Some industry veterans say Microsoft's price hike adds to the company's past restrictions on its related offerings. to searches for external developers. “Bing hasn't jumped at the opportunity to build a large ecosystem of search services, which I think would benefit it in many ways,” said D. Sivakumar, a researcher who worked for 16 years at Google and Yahoo before founding Bing. the startup Tonita in 2021.

Caitlin Roulston, spokesperson for Microsoft, reports that the price increase reflects the company's growing investments to improve Bing and also benefit companies that rely on the results. The recent use of LLMs to help rank engine results has improved the quality of online searches more than any other update in the last 20 years, Roulston said. “We are in discussions with our partners to explore further opportunities and look forward to continuing to foster a healthy web ecosystem,” he explains.

Bing is a core part of nearly every Western startup that has challenged Google, from DuckDuckGo in the late 2000s to, founded in 2020. Using bots to explore the web in its entirety and index it is expensive, and the few investments that many startups have managed to raise to compete with a giant like Google have been mostly devoted to innovative interface or other features. In one case, Cuil, a search startup launched in 2008 that developed its own index , closed its doors within two years after burning $33 million.

The Bing Bees , or application programming interfaces, allow other search engines to submit queries and get a feed of results, spelling suggestions, or related searches without advertising, which they can present to their users. In 2009, Yahoo stopped developing search engine technology and started licensing data from Bing. Google's similar API has instead fallen into disfavour, since its results can differ from those normally offered by the search giant and that some use cases require the display of advertisements.

Startup counter-moves

After Bing's price hike and the launch of its new chatbot interface, some research startups started looking for alternatives. Brave, which delivers its own results 93 percent of the time but still relies on Microsoft for image searches, estimates Bing spending will triple, forcing the small company to speed up the "process to achieve total independence," as told by his head of research, Josep Pujol.

Even Kagi, a new search engine that requires a subscription fee but promises its customers not to show ads and not to compromise on privacy , is in transition. According to founder Vladimir Prelovac, Bing used to offer an attractive balance between cost and quality. “The price change puts a strain on our ability to offer a competitive and sustainable product,” says Prelovac, who adds: “We are actively exploring alternative research providers and expanding investments in our research infrastructure.”
< Microsoft's price hike for customers who also use LLMs has startups fearing that the company intends to shut them out of what could be the future of search, at a time when consumers are excited about try new options like Bing chatbot mode and ChatGpt. “They didn't want us to innovate,” comments Richard Socher, CEO and co-founder of search startup

Earlier this month, search engine DuckDuckGo rolled out a feature that uses Llms from OpenAi and Anthropic to provide what it calls "instant answers" on certain topics using knowledge from sources such as Wikipedia. DuckDuckGo spokeswoman Allison Goodman calls the offering "totally separate" from the company's partnership with Microsoft.

Ecosia, which uses Bing results and invests its profits in environmental projects, is evaluating potential partners to develop your own chatbot. The company's executives would be willing to license the technology behind the Bing chatbot if Microsoft decides to share it: "It is important to make sure that for these companies it is not another tool to further consolidate their dominant position," says the CEO Christian Kroll.

According to StatCounter estimates, Bing covers less than 3 percent of searches globally, compared to 93 percent for Google. But Bing's share exceeds 8 percent on desktop computers, where Windows is the dominant operating system and Microsoft favors its own search engine.

Ads shown in Bing search results form a key part of Microsoft's $18 billion in annual advertising revenue. Every percentage point increase in market share could translate into $2 billion in additional ad revenue, Microsoft finance executive Philippe Ockenden told analysts during the chatbot launch last month. .

For the first time in years, the race for chatbots has generated excitement for competition between Bing, Google and other companies in the sector.'s Socher says that up until a few months ago, users were resisting the new features. Tonita's Sivakumar argues that Microsoft's chatbot could be more successful if the company allows other companies to license it on reasonable terms

The same technology that made Microsoft's search renaissance possible is also making it easier for businesses to imagine doing without Bing. After developing search startup Neeva based on Bing's API, CEO Sridhar Ramaswamy said bug reports from users - related to misinterpreted queries, outdated results and other quality issues - have persuaded to change course at the end of 2019.

Despite all this, unseating Bing continues to be difficult . Like Google, Microsoft also has a large ecosystem of products and services that can help drive people to its search engine. Some users, for example, have complained that Windows keeps setting Bing as the default search engine. In addition, to try out the Bing chatbot, Microsoft is forcing users to use the company's browser or mobile app, a strategy that is driving an increase in downloads. “ If we move towards a world where there are only two big operators with the necessary research infrastructure and experience, it is clear that they will not be pro-competitive,” Ramaswamy points out.

This article is originally appeared on US.

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