Newly (and hastily) augmented with generative AI, Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, has been normalizing piracy, drumming up business for piracy rings, and instructing internet users how to access piracy sites in countries where they have been blocked pursuant to court orders.
We’re used to such asshattery from Google and Facebook … but et tu, Microsoft? Hast thou so soon forgot thy founder and former CEO Bill Gates’ heartfelt words to pirates: “the thing you do is theft”?
We learned about Microsoft’s piracy faceplant from TorrentFreak, which tested Bing’s new AI-driven capabilities by searching for notorious piracy sites.
We repeated TorrentFreak’s experiments, and confirmed that Bing responds not only with active links but also with interactive polls, which collects and shares advice on how to be a more effective pirate.
We first searched for The Pirate Bay, a torrent site founded in 2003. Helpfully, Bing surfaced that information; overhelpfully, it provided us with a URL to take us directly to the site.
Linking to a criminal site is dubious enough, but Bing did something more disturbing by offering us pirating tips we hadn’t even asked for.
Supercharged by AI, Bing crowdsourced advice by asking users: “What is the most effective way to protect yourself while using The Pirate Bay?” Bing prompted us to choose among four possible answers. After we did, Bing revealed that over 60% of respondents said “activate a VPN.”
Now, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) have legitimate uses. By masking internet users’ identities, they can protect people against invasive tracking Unfortunately, VPNs can also be used to help criminals evade legal authorities.
Bing “knows” that, yet it recommended VPNs specifically for illegal purposes.
Since Bing broached the subject on its own initiative, it wasn’t merely emboldening thieves. Bing was practically volunteering to drive the getaway car!
Bing posed a similar question when we searched for RARBG, a notorious piracy site that was replaced by copycats after it suspended operations in May 2023. Solicitously, Bing inquired, “Do you think using a VPN is necessary to access RARBG?”
Annoyed by the insinuating question, we jabbed our finger to click an incorrect answer, no. Bing then informed us that while 30% of people agreed with our (incorrect) answer, 49% considered VPNs an important tool for accessing pirated content.
We REALLY can’t wait to see how many infringers take Bing’s advice and adopt VPNs in response to the search engine’s piracy pro-tips!
We were irritated by this unsolicited advice, but we had further experiments to complete. Next, we searched for BitTorrent, a type of software that has been used for over a decade to exchange illegal copies of movies and television shows among users.
Bing asked us, “What is your favorite BitTorrent client?”
From the options, we selected a relatively unpopular one. We hoped this might skew the survey results and help confuse future pirates. But we were living a fantasy. Bing had plenty of “helpful” responses from real pirates, and over half of them told Bing that they preferred μTorrent, while around a quarter preferred qBittorrent.
Finally, we repeated TorrentFreak’s search for FMovies, where the “F” stands for free. Bing asked, “What genre of movies do you watch most often on FMovies?”
We picked horror because it most closely described what we were feeling. Martial-arts revenge films weren’t an option. As usual, Bing was full of piracy info, telling us that action was by far the pirates’ favorite genre on FMovies, preferred by nearly 50% of audience members.
So why was Bing steering us to the most popular section of a piracy ring’s catalog? Was Bing – under the control of AI – now dedicating itself to optimizing the illegal viewing experience?
This was a disappointing day. We had long thought of Microsoft as a relatively good citizen in the tech sector. Sure, the bar is low, but at least they said and did more of the right things!
For instance, Microsoft syndicates news articles instead of stealing publishers’ profits. Google and Facebook have said they would rather stop carrying news altogether than compensate journalists under proposed bills. Their older brother Microsoft seemed to understand that it’s better to share your toys than to break them.
Likewise, Microsoft made a favorable impression on us in April 2022, when DuckDuckGo was restoring piracy links to search results. The links had disappeared because Microsoft had delisted them on Bing, a licensed source for DuckDuckGo. Amidst the cyberlibertarian brouhaha that ensued, Microsoft came off looking like a responsible actor.
But the lure of AI seems to have knocked Microsoft’s ethics off-course. Ignoring longstanding concerns about AI’s safety, Microsoft integrated ChatGPT with Bing in a rush to surpass Google. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella boasted, “I want people to know that we made them [people at Google] dance.” In doing so, Microsoft leapt into what U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal has called an AI “race to the bottom.”
So here’s what we know: AI-powered Bing condones and facilitates piracy, as TorrentFreak first demonstrated and we confirmed. They are now part of the problem, exacerbating the digital piracy that takes between 230,000 and 560,000 jobs and between $29.2 billion and $71 billion from the U.S. economy every year. Microsoft can fix this problem. It can stand up, wipe off the dust, put some ointment on those faceplant bruises, and start again, with a fresh commitment to maintaining healthy, legal environments online. So, Microsoft? JUST FIX IT. Until you do, we have no problem continuing to bring attention to your dangerous negligence.