Censorship watchdogs have grown concerned that Microsoft Bing could be filtering its Chinese-language search results for people in the U.S. in much the same way it censors the Internet inside of China.
But Microsoft denies these reports and a top Bing exec says that the strange search results were due to “an error in our system.”
China is known to heavily monitor and limit access to websites and information over the Internet for its citizens, a program some people call the Great Firewall of China.
Tests by a Chinese censorship watchdog blog (Greatfire.org) and Dominic Rushe at the Guardian indicated that when you searched for topics from the U.S. in the Chinese language, Bing sometimes delivered politically filtered results.
As the Guardian describes:
Searches first conducted by anti-censorship campaigners at FreeWeibo, a tool that allows uncensored search of Chinese blogs, found that Bing returns radically different results in the US for English and Chinese language searches on a series of controversial terms.
A Chinese language search for the Dalai Lama (达赖喇嘛) on Bing is lead by a link to information on a documentary compiled by CCTV, China’s state-owned broadcaster. This is followed by two entries from Baidu Baike, China’s heavily censored Wikipedia rival run by the search engine Baidu. The results are similar on Yahoo, whose search is powered by Bing.
The Guardian tried various other searches for content that is censored in China and the same test with Google. Google apparently passed the non-censorship test, and showed similar results in English and Chinese.
Microsoft’s Stefan Weitz, Senior Director, Bing, sent us this explanation:
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 organisations (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.