Microsoft has been forced to deny that its search engine Bing had censored certain searches and search results, specifically for its local Chinese version, instead insisting error messages were down to a technical glitch.
The apparent censorship was brought to the world’s attention by Chinese freedom of speech blog GreatFire.org, which seeks to reveal and breakdown China’s restrictions on free speech. The blog ran searches both on Chinese and US versions of Bing and for sensitive topics such as ‘Dalai Lama’ with the message:
“Due to legal obligations imposed by Chinese laws and regulations, we have removed the results for these search items. For more information, please see here”
Microsoft have responded to the claims with the following statement from Bing’s senior director Stefan Waltz:
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.