Bing outage shows just how little competition Google search really has

Google logo on a phone in front of a Bing logo in the background

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Bing, Microsoft’s search engine platform, went down in the very early morning today. That meant that searches from Microsoft’s Edge browsers that had yet to change their default providers didn’t work. It also meant that services relying on Bing’s search API—Microsoft’s own Copilot, ChatGPT search, Yahoo, Ecosia, and DuckDuckGo—similarly failed.

Services were largely restored by the morning Eastern work hours, but the timing feels apt, concerning, or some combination of the two. Google, the consistently dominating search platform, just last week announced and debuted AI Overviews as a default addition to all searches. If you don’t want an AI response but still want to use Google, you can hunt down the new “Web” option in a menu, or you can, per Ernie Smith, tack “&udm=14” onto your search or use Smith’s own “Konami code” shortcut page.

If dismay about AI’s hallucinations, power draw, or pizza recipes concern you—along with perhaps broader Google issues involving privacy, tracking, news, SEO, or monopoly power—most of your other major options were brought down by a single API outage this morning. Moving past that kind of single point of vulnerability will take some work, both by the industry and by you, the person wondering if there’s a real alternative.

Search engine market share, as measured by StatCounter, April 2023–April 2024.

Search engine market share, as measured by StatCounter, April 2023–April 2024.


Upward of a billion dollars a year

The overwhelming majority of search tools offering an “alternative” to Google are using Google, Bing, or Yandex, the three major search engines that maintain massive global indexes. Yandex, being based in Russia, is a non-starter for many people around the world at the moment. Bing offers its services widely, most notably to DuckDuckGo, but its ad-based revenue model and privacy particulars have caused some friction there in the past. Before his company was able to block more of Microsoft’s own tracking scripts, DuckDuckGo CEO and founder Gabriel Weinberg explained in a Reddit reply why firms like his weren’t going the full DIY route:

… [W]e source most of our traditional links and images privately from Bing … Really only two companies (Google and Microsoft) have a high-quality global web link index (because I believe it costs upwards of a billion dollars a year to do), and so literally every other global search engine needs to bootstrap with one or both of them to provide a mainstream search product. The same is true for maps btw — only the biggest companies can similarly afford to put satellites up and send ground cars to take streetview pictures of every neighborhood.

Bing makes Microsoft money, if not quite profit yet. It’s in Microsoft’s interest to keep its search index stocked and API open, even if its focus is almost entirely on its own AI chatbot version of Bing. Yet if Microsoft decided to pull API access, or it became unreliable, Google’s default position gets even stronger. What would non-conformists have to choose from then?

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