Microsoft Censors Your Searches
- American English and Chinese language queries for terms such as ‘Dalai Lama’ return radically different results on the Microsoft search engine for Bing and Yahoo.
- In censoring searches by the public, Microsoft is acting as an agent of the Chinese Communist Party.
Microsoft’s search engine Bing appears to be censoring information for Chinese language users in the US in the same way it filters results in mainland China.
Searches first conducted by anti-censorship campaigners at FreeWeibo, a tool that allows uncensored search of Chinese blogs, found that Bing returns radically different results in the US for English and Chinese language searches on a series of controversial terms.
These include Dalai Lama, June 4 incident (how the Chinese refer to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989), Falun Gong and FreeGate, a popular internet workaround for government censorship reports the UK Guardian.
A Chinese language search for the Dalai Lama (达赖喇嘛) on Bing is lead by a link to information on a documentary compiled by CCTV, China’s state-owned broadcaster. This is followed by two entries from Baidu Baike, China’s heavily censored Wikipedia rival run by the search engine Baidu.
The results are similar on Yahoo, whose search is powered by Bing.
|Search results on Bing for ‘Dalai Lama’ in Chinese. |
Running the same search in English on Bing generates a list headed by the Dalai Lama’s own website then links to his Wikipedia page and news reports, including one from Phayul.com, a pro-Tibetan independence website. The English search results page also shows images of the Dalai Lama, unlike the Chinese search.
|Search results on Bing for ‘Dalai Lama’ in English. |
Google, by contrast, generates broadly similar results for both English and Chinese searches. For Dalai Lama in Chinese it offers two Wikipedia pages as the top results followed by a series of news reports, one from Tibet.
A search on Bing in Chinese for Bo Xilai (薄熙来), the former high-flying Chinese government official now serving life imprisonment for corruption, shows equally different results. The top search result is again Baidu Baike. Wikipedia is the third entry. There are no western reports on the politician on the front page. In English the search is topped by Wikipedia, then by stories from the New York Times, BBC and Financial Times.
A Google search in Chinese starts with the Wikipedia page and then several news articles chronicling his downfall from sources including the BBC and Voice of America.
China heavily censors the internet for its own citizens, blocking website content and monitoring the internet access of individuals. Major US firms including Twitter are blocked, while others including Google have clashed repeatedly with the authorities over censorship.
The information was first collected by censorship blog Greatfire.org. Author Charlie Smith said he had originally discovered the discrepancies while checking for information on his own website, FreeWeibo.com, a site for anonymously searching Chinese social media.
“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,” he said.
“It’s a bit crazy. 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,” he said. “Except they don’t tell you the results have been censored. If you were in China they would at least tell you that.”
“We thought there had been a mistake so we wrote to Microsoft and they said ‘no comment,’” he said.
Microsoft did not return calls for comment from the Guardian.
Bing accounts for a small percentage of search in China but has been building up its web services in the country. Microsoft is in the middle of hiring 1,000 new employees to build up its services in China.