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Bing censors Chinese search results in the US?

When it comes to sensitive political topics, Microsoft's search engine allegedly delivers different results for English searches than those in Chinese.

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

It's no secret that many search engines abide by China's rules and censor Web results for users living in mainland China. But, typically, results in other countries don't have the same filters.

Bing, however, has been allegedly censoring results for Chinese speakers in the US, according to a report by the Guardian. The Guardian writes that sensitive political topics -- like the Dalai Lama, Falun Gong, and Tiananmen Square protests -- are showing up on the Chinese-language Bing in the US with filters. When searching the same topics on the English-language Bing, users get far more results.

At the time of this writing, Bing in Chinese in the US appears to be getting similar results to Bing in English. When contacted by CNET, Bing's Senior Director Stefan Weitz said the mixed search results were due to a glitch in the system. He also noted that Microsoft is a signatory to the Global Network Initiative, a multi-stakeholder group that works on freedom of expression and privacy on the Internet, and, therefore, follows strict procedures of how to respond to government demands to block access to content.

"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," Weitz said. "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."

Apparently, earlier in the day, when users typed in "Dalai Lama" they would get links from China's state-owned broadcaster CCTV and China's highly censored Wikipedia-like site Baidu Baike. In English, users received links to the Dalai Lama's Web site, Wikipedia entries, and much more.

As of this writing, the Chinese-language Bing in the US is showing links to the Dalai Lama's Web site, Wikipedia, as well as CCTV and Baidu Baike.

China is known for censoring much of the Internet for its citizens. Top social networking sites, like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, are banned in the country and many other Web sites and information is blocked. In the past, Google has had extended battles with the Chinese government over it's strict censorship of search results.

Microsoft has been under fire before for allegedly censoring its content for Chinese users. In 2006, the company admitted to removing the blog of an outspoken Chinese journalist from its MSN Spaces site; and just last year it was alleged that the China-only version of Skype, which Microsoft owns, contained a list of more than 1,100 words used by the Chinese government to censor and monitor users.

Updated February 12 at 10:45 a.m. PT with comment from Bing's Senior Director Stefan Weitz.