Microsoft Bing allegedly censoring politically sensitive Chinese names

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If you have recently tried searching for Chinese political personalities deemed to be sensitive on Microsoft Bing, then your search results might have been limited. The Citizen Lab, based at the University of Toronto’s Munk School came to this conclusion after analyzing Microsoft Bing’s autosuggestion system.

According to the report by Citizen Lab:

We consistently found that Bing censors politically sensitive Chinese names over time, that their censorship spans multiple Chinese political topics, consists of at least two languages, English and Chinese, and applies to different world regions, including China, the United States, and Canada.

Through the analysis carried out, the team of researchers realized that the names of political personalities considered to be sensitive did not pop up immediately after one started typing in the search bar which was a bit peculiar. And, as spotted by Engadget, this is the second-largest category of names to be censored by autosuggest. “We found that the most common reason for a name being collaterally censored was containing the name ‘Dick’, e.g., ‘Dick Cheney.’”

The group of researchers also found out that the same issue was also present in both DuckDuckGo and Yahoo, which are heavily reliant on Microsoft Bing’s search index. However, North American users could always hit the Enter button to access the full set of results to counter the autosuggest issue.

With that said, via email on May 17, Microsoft responded to Citizen Lab’s research findings and indicated that they found a technical error that was responsible for the autosuggest issue, and further highlighted that it has been corrected, as spotted by PCMag. Remember, Microsoft Bing had been requested to shut down the autosuggest feature for seven days back in March by relevant government agency. Maybe this could be part of the reason why people were experiencing this technical error.

The statement shared by Microsoft further indicates that the user’s autosuggestions are based on the query made and determined by their behavior, for instance, what other people are looking up on the internet. “Not seeing an auto-suggestion does not mean it has been blocked.”