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Bing caught censoring search results in US

By John Byrne
Wednesday, February 12, 2014 9:51 EDT
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No comment.

That’s Microsoft’s response to new revelations that the search engine is censoring Chinese searches in the United States — not just in China. Searches on Chinese topics in the U.S. now produce markedly different search results than Google, results that mimic those  in China. China broadly censors the Internet, blocking topics like the Dalai Lama and Tiananmen Square.

The censorship blog Greatfire.org was the first to point out  that Bing’s search results display information propagated by Chinese authorities. A Chinese language search in Bing for the Dalai Lama (达赖喇嘛 in Chinese) produces two results from China’s Wikipedia (Baidu Baike) and one from the state-owned television station CCTV. In Google, the same search returns two Wikipedia entries and the Dalai Lama’s official site.

Click here to see the results in Bing, versus the results in Google.

Even more shocking, a search for the anti-censorship software FreeGate produces the result: “Due to restrictions on Chinese laws and regulations, we removed the results of these search terms. For more information, see here.”

Microsoft responded to a request from Charlie Smith’s Greatfire to explain the discrepancy. At first, the  software juggernaut replied: “We’ve conducted an investigation of the claims raised by Greatfire.org. 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.”

But after finding the “due to Chinese laws and regulations” search result, Microsoft replied: “Thanks for your inquiry. We have no comment on this topic.”

Microsoft’s claim of an incorrect results removal doesn’t seem to hold water. When conducting the same search Wednesday, Raw Story found that Bing produced the same results.

The following screenshots for a search on the Dalai Lama were taken by The Guardian, which reported on the story Tuesday. The first is from Bing, the second from Google.

Smith told The Guardian he  discovered the difference between the two search engines when looking up information on his own site, FreeWeibo.com, which helps users anonymously trawl social media. The news comes on the same day Reporters Without Borders placed the United States at 46th among 180 countries for press freedoms. (The U.S. dropped 13 places from 2013 after efforts to hunt down whistleblowers, including Edward Snowden.)

“The first thing we noticed was our index page was not showing up. It specifically did not show the homepage. But it was in Google,” Smith said.

“It’s a bit crazy,” Smith continued. “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. So we won’t show them the accurate search results if they search for Dalai Lama. What you get is state controlled propaganda.

“Except they don’t tell you the results have been censored,” he added. “If you were in China they would at least tell you that.”

Smith’s extended blog post on Bing’s censorship can be found here.

[Image credit: Shutterstock.]

 
 
 
 
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