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Bing Denies Censoring Chinese Search Results Worldwide...Again

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, February 12 2014

Chinese version of the Bing search engine

Recent research by the nonprofit organization Great Fire shows that Bing is censoring English and Chinese search engine results on sensitive topics like the Falun Gong, not only in China but globally. Microsoft—which owns and operates Bing—has issued a statement to Business Insider denying these accusations and blaming the search results on a system error. Great Fire has responded in turn, in short saying that Microsoft is being both dishonest and evasive.

Those in the know might be suffering from a serious case of déjà vu. Nearly five years ago, in November of 2009, Nicholas Kristof pointed out several instances of clear censorship in Bing search results and accused Microsoft of “craven kowtowing.” Microsoft responded by blaming the perceived censorship on bugs—one they claim to have fixed and another that still needed some work.

In 2009, the Senior Director of Bing, Adam Sohn, wrote:

...we did fix a bug in web search that addressed this issue. There are some queries that provide very balanced web results, for example 六四 天安门 (June 4th Tiananmen). We recognize that we can continue to improve our relevancy and comprehensiveness in these web results and we will.

In addition, today’s investigations uncovered the fact that our image search is not functioning properly for queries entered using Simplified Chinese characters outside of the PRC. We have identified the bug and are at work on the fix.

Strange that, more than four years later, Bing still has some bugs to work out. From the statement yesterday:

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.

“This is simply not true,” countered Great Fire in a blog post. “Please refer to the comparison chart in our original blog post. The Guardian confirmed our testing results concerning the 达赖喇嘛 (Dalai Lama) and did their own tests for 薄熙来 (Bo Xilai).”

In an email to techPresident, Great Fire co-founder Charlie Smith wrote:

We did not accuse Microsoft of heavy handed censorship, a la China. We accuse them of filtering the search results and it is clear that they are doing this. I don't know what else they are doing it for. But what is alarming is that they are doing it for foreign audiences on foreign soil - not for Chinese inside China.

In saying this, he echoes Kristof, who wrote four and half years previously: “[W]hen Microsoft skews its worldwide searches to make Hu Jintao feel better, that’s a disgrace. It becomes simply a unit of the Central Committee Propaganda Department.”

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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