Microsoft has been forced to deny that its Bing search engine is censoring some results for users across the world.
Research carried out by Chinese freedom of speech blog GreatFire.org explained how when certain terms are searched for using Bing's international and U.S.-localized portals, some results are not delivered.
For example, for the search term "达赖喇嘛" (Dalai Lama), GreatFire found that results displayed on Bing's Chinese and international sites were heavily censored, with no notice of the censorship on either the U.S. or international search results.
In a statement, Bing senior director Stefan Weitz said:
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.
However, GreatFire.org refuted the claims that search results had not been altered, pointing out that the Chinese term 自由门 (Freegate) – even when a search is conducted outside of China – gave no results and instead displays this message. "Due to legal obligations imposed by Chinese laws and regulations, we have removed the results for these search terms."
All web companies that operate in China have to follow its stringent censorship laws in what is colloquially known as the Great Firewall of China. In the most high-profile spat with China, Google moved its Chinese operations to Hong Kong in 2010 following a series of cyber attacks that were believed to be politically motivated.