Microsoft denies Chinese-language Bing censorship

Microsoft has denied claims that Bing censors controversial Chinese search terms outside of China.

Microsoft denies Chinese-language Bing censorship, a China-based freedom of speech advocacy group, found the US version of Bing returned different search results for controversial terms such as “Dalai Lama” across English and Chinese language searches.

According to The Guardian, the top Chinese result for “Dalai Lama” leads to a documentary compiled by CCTV, China’s state broadcaster. That’s followed by a censored entry from Baidu Baike, the Chinese version of Wikipedia.

The same search in English returns links to the Dalai Lama’s home page, his Wikipedia page and a pro-Tibetan independence site.

But Google, the researchers found, returned similar results whether a search was made in Chinese or English.

System error

Microsoft said a “system fault” had removed some search results for users outside China. The company said it didn’t apply China’s legal search requirements outside the country.

Microsoft has in the past come under fire for censoring the Chinese version of Skype.

“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,” Stefan Weitz, senior director for Bing, told Reuters.

Weitz did not say if the error had been fixed and Microsoft officials in Beijing declined to elaborate.

Microsoft sent a shortened version of the statement to China-based media organisations which omitted all reference to and did not address the allegations.

“There were too many points in the original statement,” a China-based Microsoft spokeswoman told Reuters.

Reuters reporters found that Bing omitted several websites that showed up on the search engine of rival Google when they searched for “Dalai Lama” in Chinese from Singapore. The English-language search results on both engines were similar.

Compliance with China

China’s ruling Communist Party sees censorship as key to maintaining its grip on power, recognising that social media offers a platform for citizens to air grievances and criticism of the government, a potential trigger for social unrest.

This censorship often means foreign tech companies must tread a careful path in China to exploit business opportunities without compromising a carefully nurtured image as champions of open societies and free speech.

All internet firms operating in China comply with the government’s web censorship requirements.

Microsoft has made no secret of its aim to build a bigger presence in China, a market where its software is widely used but rarely paid for.

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