Microsoft's Bing search engine accused of 'censoring' sensitive Chinese topics

Chinese-language searches for Dalai Lama, Tiananmen crackdown and Bo Xilai yield drastically different results than the English version

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 February, 2014, 8:57am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 February, 2014, 4:46pm

Searching politically sensitive terms such as the Dalai Lama, Tiananmen, and Falun Gong on Microsoft search engine Bing returns radically different results in Chinese than in English, suggesting it may be censoring information for Chinese users outside the mainland, according to a The Guardian report on Wednesday.

The report cited how running a search for “Dalai Lama” on Bing in Chinese would yield an entry on a documentary by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV and articles from the heavily censored Wikipedia-like Baidu Baike, according to tests run by free-speech campaigners at FreeWeibo.

The same search in English, however, would point to the Dalai Lama’s own website and other pages such as a pro-Tibetan independence website, it said.

Similar contrasts appear on Bing-operated search engine Yahoo.

By comparison, a Google search would yield “broadly similar results for both English and Chinese searches”, the report said, including a report mentioning the Tibet independence movement.

The report on Wednesday said that Greatfire.org author Charlie Smith had first noticed the discrepancies while running a search on FreeWeibo, which allows users to anonymously search social media – many of which are blocked on the mainland, including Facebook and Twitter. The popular microblogging service Sina Weibo is also heavily censored by China’s internet police.

It’s a bit crazy. Any Chinese person who is searching in Chinese from overseas is being treated as if they have the same rights as a resident of mainland China
Charlie Smith, Greatfire.org

Meanwhile, running a Chinese-language Bing search for disgraced Communist Party boss Bo Xilai, who was sentenced to life in jail for corruption, would yield a Baidu Baike entry as the top result, with no reports from Western media on the first page of results, The Guardian said.

The same search in English leads to a Bo Xilai Wikipedia profile, followed by stories from the websites of the BBC, The New York Times and Financial Times.

“It’s a bit crazy. Any Chinese person who is searching in Chinese from overseas is being treated as if they have the same rights as a resident of mainland China,” said Smith, as quoted in the report.

“What you get is state-controlled propaganda. Except they don’t tell you the results have been censored. If you were in China they would at least tell you that.”

Microsoft did not respond to requests for comment, Guardian said.

Bing, a costly rival to Google’s search engine, has reportedly cost Microsoft around US$3 billion a year while maintaining a much smaller market share than its rivals, sparking rumours late last year that Microsoft might sell or close the site.

However, Microsoft has in recent years rolled out redesigns and algorithm tweaks to help boost Bing’s appeal among internet users.