Microsoft has been accused by a Chinese censorship blog and UK newspaper of globally censoring Bing search results related to China. But Microsoft strongly refuted the claims and says that it is doing no such thing. So the original censorship watchdog has returned fire with a new, baseless accusation.
Search providers such as Google and Microsoft are known to filter search results in China in accordance with the law there, and of course China greatly limits Internet access to its citizens via a national program called the "great firewall of China." But the accusation this week is that Microsoft's Bing service was offering a similar level of filtering when users outside of China searched for terms that are controversial in that country, like "Dalai Lama."
That accusation, by censorship watchdog GreatFire.org, was summarily picked up by the UK-based Guardian, which noted that Bing was delivering "radically different results" in the United States for English and Chinese language searches on these controversial terms. And in attempting to expand on the story, The Guardian reported that a Chinese-language social networking site called FreeWeibo.com was also not turning up in Bing search results.
Not exactly: Microsoft explains that nothing untoward has happened.
"Bing does not apply China's legal requirements to searches conducted outside of China," Bing Senior Director Stefan Weitz notes in a prepared statement. "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."
As for FreeWeibo, that site's home page had been flagged for "inappropriate due to low quality or adult content" for quite some time.
"Bing aims to provide a robust set of high-quality, relevant search results to our users," Weitz explains. "In doing so, Bing has extremely high standards that respect human rights, privacy, and freedom of expression . . . After review, we have determined that the [FreeWeibo home] page is acceptable for inclusion in global search results."
"Microsoft is a signatory to the Global Network Initiative (GNI), 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," the Weitz statement continues. "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 let's not end this article on a reasonable note. Now, GreatFire.org is accusing Microsoft of having a too-cozy relationship with the Chinese government. Never let an utter lack of evidence get in the way of a good story!
"Microsoft has traditionally a really good relationship with China compared to other IT companies," GreatFire.org's Percy Alpha said in the wake of Weitz's explanations. "So I think Chinese authorities may have asked them for a favor and they just did it. And there's a huge market share in China. Even though the server itself is not in China, Microsoft has huge business interests in China. Therefore, they might just comply with Chinese authorities to keep a good relationship with them."