Microsoft caught censoring the Internet for China—even in the U.S.

Microsoft chalked up the problem to a bug.


Dell Cameron

Internet Culture

Published Feb 12, 2014   Updated May 31, 2021, 6:27 pm CDT

Microsoft’s search engine Bing has extended the censorship of Chinese-language search results in other countries, according to a report from a Chinese censorship watchdog.

Searches for terms in Chinese using Bing are returning different results than searches in English, even when those searches originate in the United States, reports Great Fire, a blog that specializes in monitoring websites and keywords blocked by the People’s Republic of China.

After comparing the search engine’s results, Great Fire reported it was unable to locate specific information about topics the Chinese government considers controversial. These include the Dalai Lama, who fled from Central Tibet in 1959 following China’s invasion, and the infamous 1989 Tiananmen square demonstrations, during which thousands of civilians may have been killed after a violent military clampdown.

Specifically, searches for “Dalai Lama” did not include his Wikipedia page or his official website. Instead, a documentary sponsored by the Chinese government appeared, along with a page from the nation’s own meticulously censored version of Wikipedia, Baidu Baike. Results for Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo were likewise unavailable.

For users in mainland China, Bing’s website indicates when search results have been filtered. The altered results in the United States and elsewhere include no such notification.

“We are 100 percent sure our findings indicate that Microsoft is cleansing search results in the United States to remove negative news and information about China,” Great Fire said in a statement. “And they are doing this in every market in which they operate in the world.”

Microsoft later responded to the accusations in a press release, stating the censored results were due to an error in their system, which accidentally triggered a notification to remove the 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,” the company added.

Microsoft’s press release did not reveal what steps would be taken to correct the issue. They did, however, comment on another issue: Bing searches also censored links to Great Fire’s tool to sidestep China’s censorship. The company admitted that was a mistake.

“After review, we have determined the page is acceptable for inclusion in global search results,” the statement said.

H/T Agence France-Presse | Image by Itti/Wikimedia Commons (Remix by Dell Cameron)

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*First Published: Feb 12, 2014, 6:45 pm CST