In a piece from Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times titled Boycott Microsoft Bing, Kristof observes that text and image searches in simplified Chinese characters (those used in mainland China) return sanitized results. He also says that Microsoft’s responses to the problem have been inconsistent over the last few months, ranging from a bug that will be fixed, to a result of the algorithm, back to being a bug. From Kristof’s post:
If you search a term on Bing that is politically sensitive in China, in English the results are legitimate. Search “Tiananmen” and you’ll find out about the army firing on pro-democracy protesters in 1989. Search Dalai Lama, Falun Gong and you also get credible results. Conduct the search in complex Chinese characters (the kind used in Taiwan and Hong Kong) and on the whole you still get authentic results.
But conduct the search with the simplified characters used in mainland China, then you get sanitized pro-Communist results. This is especially true of image searches. Magic! No Tiananmen Square massacre. The Dalai Lama becomes an oppressor. Falun Gong believers are villains, not victims.
What’s most offensive is that this is true wherever in the world the search is conducted – including in my office in New York. If Microsoft felt it had to bow to Chinese censorship within China’s borders, based on the IP address, that might be defensible. But when Microsoft skews its worldwide searches to make Hu Jintao feel better, that’s a disgrace. It becomes simply a unit of the Central Committee Propaganda Department.
(This is an issue with Google as well, but to a much lesser extent. Google censors results on its search engine used within China, google.cn, but offers mostly uncensored results using simplified Chinese characters on its worldwide browser, google.com. However, some searches on google.com, such as images for Falun Gong, are also censored.)