Bing censors search results in China in accordance with Chinese law. But does it do so in the US and elsewhere around the world for Chinese users? That disturbing proposition was raised yesterday in an article appearing in The Guardian.
The article asserted that Bing search results for Chinese language speakers in the US were radically different than those in English for controversial terms such as Tiananmen Square or Dalai Lama:
Microsoft’s search engine Bing appears to be censoring information for Chinese language users in the US in the same way it filters results in mainland China. 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. These include Dalai Lama, June 4 incident (how the Chinese refer to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989), Falun Gong and FreeGate, a popular internet workaround for government censorship.
The Guardian says the comparison and charge were first made by Greatfire.org. After an outreach to Microsoft the company said it was not censoring search results for Chinese speakers outside the People’s Republic.
We received the following comment and explanation, attributed to Bing’s Senior Director Stefan Weitz:
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.
Postscript: Microsoft has now posted a more detailed explanation on its Bing blog.