Microsoft Promotes Ad-Free Bing, But With a Price

John Lister's picture

Microsoft is targeting school pupils with a special ad-free version of the Bing search engine. It says testing shows the software improves classroom performance, though critics suggest Microsoft's motives are far from charitable.

The special edition of the search engine is called Bing in the Classroom. Microsoft initially tested it in five school districts last year and is now making it available nationwide. It will be available to all K-12 schools (meaning primary and secondary education) in the United States.

According to Microsoft estimates, students using school computers see a total of more than 15 billion search-related ads each year. It's not entirely clear if that includes all commercial site results, or simply paid ads that appear on results pages. (Source:

Bing In The Classroom Includes Multiple Filters

By default, Bing in the Classroom will block not only paid ads, but also websites belonging to businesses. The idea is that the only results pupils will see are those from "online resources."

The software also includes filters for teachers to optionally block particular types of content such as adult material. The teachers can also choose to add features designed to make children more skilled at using the Internet and researching online information.

Microsoft says the program has been tested using a sample of 5,000 schools before offering it to the public. They say the program has delivered more than 35 million sets of search results without any ads.

With that said: while filtering may be welcomed by some, critics suggest that filtering in this manner is nothing more Internet censorship. Moreover, filters are never 100% accurate because they are algorithmically programmed by humans and are therefore error-prone. It's the same reason why email spam still exists and why email filters won't catch all spam.

Parents and Third-Parties Also Rewarded For Using Bing

Microsoft is also offering more explicit inducements for school pupils to use Bing.

Schools can register for a rewards program that totals up the searches made online and, if the students choose to take part, on their computers at home. The scheme isn't just limited to students; parents and other adults can sign up to earn credits for a particular school, though it's not clear whether or not these third parties will have an ad-free search when they join the program.

The scheme is designed to work on any computer, though not on the Bing Apps tools found on Windows 8.1 computers. (Source:

Every time a school reaches a certain number of credits, it gets a Microsoft Surface tablet with the student edition of Microsoft Office preinstalled. Microsoft says 60 parents signed up to the scheme should be enough to get one tablet in around a month. However, those estimates are based on an average of 30 daily searches each, which may be on the high side.

Critics Suggest Alternative Motive for Scheme

While blocking ads will no doubt make it easier for teachers to get students to work online without distraction, Microsoft is most likely not making the move for purely selfless reasons. Simply put: the more time students spend using Bing at school, the more likely they are to get used to using it, rather than alternatives such as Google. This is an example of brand establishment or brand management.

The Surface giveaway may not be as costly as it seems, either. Last summer, Microsoft announced a $900 million write-off its accounts to reflect stock of the Surface RT. That was a formal acknowledgement that it would likely get less money than expected from selling the stock and might never sell all of them.

That led to speculations that Microsoft might be sitting on as many as several million Surface tablets that it was struggling to shift.

What's Your Opinion?

What do you think of the 'Bing in the Classroom' scheme promoted by Microsoft? Do you think it's a good idea, and would you be prepared to switch to Bing if it would help a local school get free tablet computers? Or, do you worry that this program is nothing more than brand establishment targeting both children and adults?

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