The Great Firewall of China is affecting Bing searches here in the United States.
The Chinese government is known for suppressing “injurious” information within its own borders, but it appears its rigorous standards apply to Chinese-language Bing users elsewhere, too.
Anti-censorship campaigners at FreeWeibo discovered the U.S. version of Bing serves up wildly disparate search results for controversial topics like the Dalai Lama, the Tiananmen Square incident, and software that enables Internet users to circumvent government censorship in China. (Censorship blog Greatfire.org posted a roundup of the results.)
When VentureBeat searched Bing for the Dalai Lama in English, the first result was his official site, followed by news about the Dalai Lama and two related Wikipedia entries. In Chinese, however, a search for the Dalai Lama (达赖喇嘛) returned multiple entries from Baidu Baike, China’s heavily censored Wikipedia rival, followed by informative about a documentary by CCTV, China’s state-owned television broadcaster. Unlike the English search, the Chinese results didn’t include images on the main page.
A Chinese-language search for the Dalai Lama in the U.S.
Microsoft has attributed some issues to an “error in [its] system,” but simultaneously denied altering its search results outside China.
“First, Bing does not apply China’s legal requirements to searches conducted outside of China,” reads a statement from Bing senior director Stefan Weitz provided to Engadget. “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.”
Inside China, Microsoft alters its search results to serve the government’s interests. Bing isn’t popular in the country, but Microsoft is currently hiring 1,000 new employees to build up its presence in China.
VentureBeat has reached out to the Bing team for comment.
[Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story asserted that Google also censors its search results in China. That is inaccurate; in early 2010, Google announced it was no longer willing to censor searches in China and would pull out of the country completely if necessary. China condemned the decision and blocked many of Google’s services.]
Update (9:25 AM pacific): A Bing representative replied with the aforementioned statement from Weitz. We’ve included his full comments below.
We’ve conducted an investigation of the claims raised by Greatfire.org.
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 content. After review, we have determined the page is acceptable for inclusion in global search results.
Bing aims to provide a robust set of high-quality, relevant search results to our users. In doing so, Bing has extremely high standards that respect human rights, privacy and freedom of expression.
Microsoft is a signatory to the Global Network Initiative, which is an effort by a multi-stakeholder group of companies, civil society organizations (including human rights and press freedom groups), investors and academics to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy on the Internet. As part of our commitment to GNI, Microsoft follows a strict set of internal procedures for how we respond to specific demands from governments requiring us to block access to content. We apply these principles carefully and thoughtfully to our Bing version for the People’s Republic of China.
– Stefan Weitz, Bing senior director