Search for “达赖喇嘛” (Dalai Lama) in China, and you should expect the results were cleansed by the government. More alarming: China’s censorship seems to extend well beyond its borders for users of Microsoft’s Bing search engine.
“It would appear that no matter where you use Bing in the world, unfavorable news and information about China is being filtered from your search results, especially if you are searching in Chinese,” writes a co-founder of anti-censorship blog GreatFire.org, which published the results of its study today.
Microsoft didn’t provide a response when contacted by Quartz today.
From within the United States, GreatFire.org used Bing and Google to search for terms that the Chinese government deems sensitive. It then noted two variables: how heavily the Bing results appeared to be censored (based on the comparable Google search) and whether Bing displayed a notice explaining the results had been removed, like this:
Results were mixed. While “Dalai Lama” in Chinese turned up “heavily censored” results, the Chinese-language search for “June 4th Incident” was untouched. (At least one of GreatFire.org’s findings—the search results for “自由门,” the Chinese term for Freegate, which helps get around Chinese censorship—appeared to have changed by the time of publishing.) It’s also hard to tell exactly what criteria GreatFire.org was using to establish whether something had been “heavily censored.”
However, several keywords that Greatfire.org tested on Bing’s international site did indeed differ markedly from Google’s results. A search on Bing for the Chinese characters for Liu Xiaobo, the political prisoner and Nobel laureate, generated almost exclusively results from within China, lending credence to GreatGire.org’s contentions.
Kowtowing to the Chinese government’s policies within China is increasingly common for Western tech companies. For instance, last month, Apple removed the app version of FreeWeibo from its Chinese app store. And just days ago, foreign media reported that Apple’s personal iPad engraving service doesn’t extend to sensitive terms like “Tibet independence.” But if Greatfire.org’s report is accurate, and Bing is indeed applying Chinese government-set censorship filters to searches outside of China, it would mark an ominous extension of the Great Firewall’s reach.