BlackBerry smartphone users on Verizon Wireless's U.S. cellular network may have noticed a small but significant change within their mobile Web browsers in the past week or so: The only search engine option that's available to some Verizon customers via their BlackBerry Browsers' Start or Go To pages is now Microsoft Bing.
Gone are the Google, Yahoo, and Wikipedia options that were available just days before -- though Verizon BlackBerry users can still manually access any search engine they please by typing the corresponding URL into the BlackBerry browser.
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The oft-criticized BlackBerry browser launches with what BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion (RIM) has labeled a Go To screen. The BlackBerry Go To screen is a home page of sorts, with an option to search the Web directly from the page, along with both BlackBerry bookmarks and Internet navigation history.
Typically, BlackBerry users can select their own search engines of choice from the BlackBerry Go To pages and search the Web from there. But as of last week, Verizon decided to eliminate all the search options and now a number of its wireless customers are, in effect, being force-fed Microsoft's Bing.
It seems that not all of Verizon's BlackBerry subscribers have seen the change -- yet; I've spoken with a number of BlackBerry users on Verizon and few of them report that additional search options are still available. But my BlackBerry Storm 2 no longer lists any search options within my BlackBerry browser other than Bing. And if I had to guess, I'd say it's only a matter of time before all Verizon BlackBerrys get all "Binged up."
Verizon and Microsoft have clearly struck some kind of deal, as the wireless carrier recently decided to ship the brand new BlackBerry Storm 2 9550 with an exclusive, dedicated Bing search mobile application in October. Shortly after the Storm 2 launch, Verizon started pushing out the Bing application to additional BlackBerry smartphones. (Can you say, "crapware"?)
And today, Bing is the only default search option available to many Verizon BlackBerry customers. It's not uncommon for a wireless carrier to favor one search engine over another. T-Mobile, for example, sets Yahoo as the default engine on its BlackBerry browser Go To pages. But T-Mobile customers can always open up the dropdown menu on the Go To pages and choose another search engine -- though they return to the default Yahoo engine when the BlackBerry browser is reopened.
It's annoying for T-Mobile to specify a default search engine -- especially if you're a Google guy or gal like me. But it's simply wrong of Verizon to force one particular search engine on its customers, regardless if that engine is Google, Yahoo, Bing, or anything else.
Verizon's not exactly known for respecting its customers' freedom; until recently the carrier resisted the inclusion of Wi-Fi in BlackBerry devices for fear it could eat into profits, and Verizon even crippled certain handsets by disabling GPS or GPS-related functions. But this seems like a new low to me.
Sure, I can still type "Google.com" into my BlackBerry browser and search from there, but why should I have to waste time plugging in the URL and popping over to a separate page? Another possible workaround is tagging your search-page of choice as a BlackBerry browser bookmark, and popping over to that site with a single click from the Go To page. But that's still more work than it could, and should, be.
Verizon Wireless is sending a clear message that its customers' freedom of choice means very little to the company. And that shouldn't go unnoticed.