21 November 2009 ~ 31 Comments

Microsoft Bing censoring searches in Chinese?

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.)

Bing has also posted an official response to Kristof’s post.

31 Responses to “Microsoft Bing censoring searches in Chinese?”

  1. athena_0007@hotmail.com 23 November 2009 at 5:11 pm Permalink

    I believe this to be unethical, but what is ethical anymore? The definition of ethics over the years has been derived down to personal reasoning now. If you asked the Chinese government why they would censor their citizens, I’m sure they would not think it to be wrong in any kind of way. I think censoring can only do harm to what people believe to be true.

  2. tattoo needles 26 November 2009 at 9:33 pm Permalink

    If you asked the Chinese government why they would censor their citizens, I’m sure they would not think it to be wrong in any kind of way.

  3. Yumi Vega 8 December 2009 at 5:43 am Permalink

    i am using both Bing and Google and i think both search engines give relevant search results. i would still prefer Google though, because it gives a little bit more relevant search results than Bing.

  4. Heather May 18 January 2010 at 4:25 am Permalink

    my default search engine is Yahoo but now i am using BING because it is much better than Yahoo. i heard that Bing search engine would power Yahoo search also.

  5. Kymm 4 February 2010 at 11:38 pm Permalink

    i think that Bing is not as good as Google. Google would still index new websites faster than Bing. Microsoft would still need a lot of catching to do with GoogleBot.

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