Microsoft says Bing ‘censorship’ of Chinese search results was an error

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Microsoft says Bing 'censorship' of Chinese search results was an error

Internet censorship in China is something that we are all aware of. It’s not an ideal state of affairs, but that’s the way things are and, for the time being, there’s little that can be done about it. Search engines that want to operate in China need to abide by strict guidelines set down by the Chinese government. But allegations have started that Bing is also censoring Chinese language searches that are conducted in other countries. Microsoft denies the claims.

Freedom of speech campaigners found that Bing was returning different search results for searches conducted form the US in English, and those conducted in Chinese. It was found that “controversial” terms such as Dalai Lama, FreeGate and June 4 incident — which is how the Tiananmen Square protests are known — do not return the types of pages searchers might expect, or want to see, but links to censored sites or those with a pro-Chinese stance.

There were also problems with the site — which allows for uncensored searching of Chinese blogs — being omitted from search results. 

Sites including the Guardian and GreatFire claimed that this was indicative of Chinese censorship outside of China. Speaking to Engadget, Microsoft has denied the claims of censorship, but it down to a series of errors:

“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,” said Bing’s Senior Director Stefan Weitz.

He went on to say that: “Second, with regard to the 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 content. After review, we have determined the page is acceptable for inclusion in global search results.”

Microsoft does not denying complying with Chinese government requests within China (“Microsoft follows a strict set of internal procedures for how we respond to specific demands from governments requiring us to block access to content”), but insists that “we apply these principles carefully and thoughtfully to our Bing version for the People’s Republic of China,” not elsewhere in the world.