Microsoft accused of censoring Chinese search results in US

Chinese monitoring site GreatFire says Microsoft is filtering certain search results. Microsoft pins the blame on a system error.

A search for the Dalai Lama on Bing's Chinese language search engine in the US.
A search for the Dalai Lama on Bing's Chinese language search engine in the US. Screenshot by Dara Kerr/CNET

Is Microsoft censoring searches of certain Chinese terms in the United States? One Web site is standing behind its original accusation.

Microsoft's Bing allegedly delivers different results for English-language searches than for those in Chinese , The Guardian said on Tuesday. Run searches on such politically sensitive topics as the Dalai Lama, Falun Gong, and Tiananmen Square on Bing's English-language site and its Chinese-language site, and the results vary, the report claimed. The Guardian said the discrepancies were first noted by Chinese monitoring site GreatFire.

In response to the initial charges of censorship from GreatFire, Microsoft attributed the problem to a system error, sharing the following statement with CNET:

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. 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.

But GreatFire remains unconvinced. In a Wednesday update posted on its Web site, GreatFire said that Microsoft's claim that the search results are and were unaltered outside of China is simply not true.

"Most results are partially censored and hard to detect if you don't read Chinese," GreatFire claimed. "But we selected a term that is completely censored so that even a non-Chinese reader can easily confirm that the censorship exists." As purported evidence, GreatFire pointed to a search for the word "Freegate" in Chinese on Bing's Chinese-language site as one that triggers the message: "Due to legal obligations imposed by Chinese laws and regulations, we have removed the results for these search terms."

GreatFire also chided Microsoft for failing to address its allegations of censorship on the international version of Bing in China.

"For Microsoft, this is an enormous opportunity -- do the right thing and stand up to Chinese censorship now," GreatFire said. "It has damaged your credibility with customers and China's efforts to boost its image overseas."

In response to GreatFire's latest charges, Stefan Weitz, senior director of Bing, posted a blog on Wednesday "emphatically" confirming that Microsoft does not censor the Chinese search results.

Updates: Added statement from Microsoft and separately the response from Bing's senior director.

(Via The Next Web)

About the author

Journalist, software trainer, and Web developer Lance Whitney writes columns and reviews for CNET, Computer Shopper, Microsoft TechNet, and other technology sites. His first book, "Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time," was published by Wiley & Sons in November 2012.

 

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