When Microsoft incorporated ChatGPT’s chatbot into Bing, it managed to achieve something the company had been trying to do for years: it got people excited about its unloved search engine. However, if it’s not careful, its eagerness to capitalize on this rare Bing win could end up doing more harm than good.
Indexing the entire internet so that it can be searched is a very expensive endeavour, which is why smaller search engines such as DuckDuckGo pay the companies behind bigger search engines, such as Bing and Google, to use their indexing for their own products.
It seems while Microsoft is perfectly happy to make money from licencing Bing’s indexing for search engines, it doesn’t want it being used in any rival chatbots. According to Bloomberg, Microsoft has warned at least two of its customers that using Bing’s index for their own AI chat tools violates the terms of their contract, which could result in them losing access to the index altogether.
While Microsoft absolutely has the right to dictate how the services and features it provides to customers are used, it could also be seen as a way of stifling competition to make sure Bing isn’t challenged when it comes to AI.
After Microsoft added AI to Bing, a spate of search engines announced similar tools. DuckDuckGo announced DuckAssist, while You.com and Neeva, two relatively new search engines that rely on Bing indexing, also announced AI-powered tools.
By stating that these AI tools cannot use Bing indexing, Microsoft may have effectively killed them. The threat of removing their access to its indexing is a big problem, as these search engines rely on them to return results. If they get cut off, their entire product could effectively be rendered useless.
There’s an unfortunate whiff of a bigger company bullying smaller ones to make sure they can’t compete, and it’s a shame to see that happening so soon in the chat AI space. Emerging technologies like AI chatbots thrive when there’s a huge amount of competition, as businesses innovate to help stand out from the crowd. OpenAI, the company being the GPT large language model that Bing’s chatbot is based on, understands this, as it has made its platform open for developers to incorporate into their own products.
It's a shame, then, that Microsoft doesn’t seem to be taking the same approach (ironically, Microsoft has a close partnership with OpenAI), and by forbidding the use of Bing’s indexing, it could seriously hamper the growth of alternative AI-assisted search tools. That might be good for Microsoft and its desire for Bing to grow in popularity, but it’s bad news for the rest of us.
Of course, those small search engines could switch to another indexing source. The only problem is that there’s just one other company that indexes the entire internet to licence out: Google. With that search giant working on its own AI-powered search tool, Bard, it’s also unlikely to want to share access to its own indexing. I just hope the greed of Microsoft and other internet gatekeepers doesn’t end up killing off the potential of AI chatbots before they’ve even properly begun.
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Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Core Tech, looking after computing and mobile technology. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. Ever since he got an Amiga A500+ for Christmas in 1991, he's loved using (and playing on) computers, and will talk endlessly about how The Secret of Monkey Island is the best game ever made.