Internet searching has grown from a modest free service to an extremely profitable industry. Designated as the very first web search engine, W3Catalog started in late 1993 and retired in 1996. It was a simple collection of indexes copied from a few dozen web sites. By comparison, Google Search currently performs 100 billion searches each month (88% of all searches done) on over 30 trillion web pages written in 123 languages. This dominance was the leading factor providing Google more than $66,000,000,000 in revenues last year – over 95% of said revenues are from search and web page advertising.
It should come as no surprise that there are at least 170 other search engines striving to share this massive advertising bounty by any means imaginable. The most appealing direct approach is to provide an attractive distinguishing feature. Ixquick and DuckDuckGo offer privacy and pledge not to track your searches. Dogpile, Excite, HotBot and others are metasearch engines that analyze and combine searches performed by other search engines. Others focus on jobs, business, shopping, regional interests and other appealing interests.
Another approach is to pay for product placement by computer manufacturers. For example, Apple extracts a fee from Microsoft to use Bing as the search engine for Siri and a fee from Google to use Google Search in Safari. PC system manufacturers set Bing as the default search engine as per the licensing agreement with Microsoft, but will accept fees from multiple search providers to include them as alternative resources. Placement fees are also negotiated with over 200 alternative browsers. Firefox recently reached the end of a 5 year agreement with Google that had provided Firefox with $300,000,000 annually (about 90% of total revenue!); it now sets Bing as the default search engine for an undisclosed fee.
Yet another way of changing your search engine is to piggyback an automated installation to an update of an unrelated program already on your computer or attach it to a new software installation. If you select the “recommended” or “default installation”, an option to change your search engine is preselected “for your convenience.” A free browser toolbar with some purportedly useful functions and a new search box is another common enticement offered when you visit popular websites. I routinely recommend rejecting all such offers and removing those that have slipped in the back door.
Microsoft spent heavily on internet and television ads for the Bing “decision tool” over several years to encourage interest in their product. Since 2010 they have offered “Bing Rewards” – an enrollment loyalty program. The fine print indicates that you can earn up to 15 points every day at ½ point per search – 515 points will net you a $5 gift card.
If you find that your search engine or home page has been changed without your consent, reverting to your preferred choices can be accomplished by reconfiguring your browser settings. After all, it is your computer and your decision to make! Take a shillelagh to these shenanigans!