Did Bing or Didn’t It?

Posted February 13th, 2014 at 11:20 am (UTC+0)
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A map of China is seen through a magnifying glass on a computer screen showing binary digits in SingaporeGreatFire.org, an online advocacy group that monitors internet censorship in China, this week accused the Microsoft search engine Bing of censoring both English and Chinese web searches to omit content offensive to the Chinese government.

Reuters reporters say that Bing search results omitted results that did show up in Google searches, such as “Dalai Lama.”  The Guardian reports similar findings for internet searches such as “Falun Gong” and “Bo Xilai,” the former high-ranking official now serving a lifetime in prison on corruption charges.

GreatFire, Reuters and the Guardian all say results were the same whether they searched in Chinese from Singapore or in English from the U.S.

We can also now trace complicit Bing Chinese censorship back to 2009…It looks like Microsoft has indeed changed its censorship mechanism after our research made headlines this week. But Bing is still seriously flawed on two fronts: its algorithm favors pro-Chinese government websites by default on all search terms in simplified Chinese and their front end mistakenly delivers explicit censorship of search results on some search terms for users from all over the world. – GreatFire.org

Microsoft denies the accusations.  In a statement to Microsoft’s TheNextWeb, senior Bing director Stefan Weitz said Bing had conducted a thorough review of the problem, and “The removal of certain search results has been credited to a technical error in the system.”

First, Bing does not apply China’s legal requirements to searches conducted outside of China.  Due to an error in our system, we triggered an incorrect results removal notification for some searches noted in the report but the results themselves are and were unaltered outside of China.

Second, with regard to the freeweibo.com homepage being absent from Bing search results, our investigation indicates that at some time in the past the page was marked as inappropriate due to low quality or adult.  After review, we have determined the page is acceptable for inclusion in global search results…Stefan Weitz, quoted in TNW.

Western tech companies operating in China have often been accused of putting economic interests ahead of ethics, giving into China’s strict internet rules.  Back in 2004, Yahoo! was blamed for providing e-mail account information on Chinese journalist Shi Tao after he used his Yahoo! email account to send a message to a New York-based rights group, the Democracy Forum.

IT companies argue that in order to continue operating in China as in other countries, they are compelled to abide by the laws in those countries, and insist that they aren’t actively collaborating with governments.

For a look at the issue–and how the U.S., including the Broadcasting Board of Governors, are working to promote internet freedom in China, see the July 2012 Congressional Research Service report, China, Internet Freedom, and U.S. Policy, available online.


Cecily Hilleary
Cecily began her reporting career in the 1990s, covering US Middle East policy for an English-language network in the UAE. She has lived and/or worked in the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf, consulting and producing for several regional radio and television networks and production houses, including MBC, Al-Arabiya, the former Emirates Media Incorporated and Al-Ikhbaria. She brings to VOA a keen understanding of global social, cultural and political issues.

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