Microsoft responded to New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof's assertion, made in a Nov. 20 column, that Bing offers pro-Chinese-government results for politically sensitive queries inputted in simplified Chinese. Microsoft now asserts that those results are related to what the company calls a "bug" that will be fixed soon, although Kristof argues the company told him the same thing in June. Microsoft follows Google in experiencing political problems while trying to disseminate the Chinese version of its search engine.
Microsoft's Bing may be gradually expanding its share of the search market,
but the search engine-and by extension, Redmond-finds
itself under fire from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.
In a Nov.
, Kristof accused Microsoft of "craven kowtowing" to the Chinese
government by offering "sanitized pro-Communist results" for
politically sensitive search terms such as "Dalai Lama" inputted into
Bing in simplified Chinese. "What's most offensive," Kristof wrote,
"is that this is true wherever in the world the search is
conducted-including in my office in New York."
Kristof claims that this first came to his attention in June; apparently,
Microsoft responded at the time that the search results in Chinese were the
result of what the company deemed "a bug." Although Microsoft claims
that the bug was subsequently repaired, Kristof doesn't believe that to be the
"Microsoft's current position, which insults my intelligence and yours,
is that there was indeed a bug of some kind and that it is fixed," Kristof
wrote in his column, "but that searches in simplified characters continue
to produce pro-Communist results because of the algorithms used."
In other words, Kristof added, Microsoft asserts that a search in a
particular language "emphasizes results from within the country that uses
that language," meaning that "if you search in the simplified
characters used within China,
then you get disproportionally Chinese propaganda."
Kristof linked to images of the Chinese-language Bing processing specific terms,
along with the search results, here
Realizing that a targeted article by a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner
probably deserves a prompt response, Microsoft issued a blog posting that same
day that promised to fix the issue.
"Today's investigations uncovered the fact that our image search is not
functioning properly for queries entered using Simplified Chinese characters
outside of the PRC (People's Republic of
China)," Adam Sohn, senior director of Bing, wrote
in a corporate blog posting on Nov. 20
. "We have identified the bug
and are at work on the fix. We expect to have this done before the Thanksgiving
Sohn defended Bing as producing "very balanced Web results" for
simplified-Chinese queries such as "June
," but also suggested that "we can continue to
improve our relevancy and comprehensiveness in these web results and we
Kristof, however, seemed unimpressed by the blog posting.
Microsoft's blog posting "notes that some Bing searches are not skewed
even in simplified characters but acknowledges that image searches in
particular are sanitized," he wrote in an update to his original column.
"It says that this is a bug that was identified today and that it will
soon be fixed. That's basically what I was told last June, and I'm very
engines have traditionally wrestled with the People's Republic of China
over censored content in their results. Back in 2006, in order to create a
local Chinese presence at google.cn, Google famously had to make some
concessions to the Chinese government.
"We have agreed to remove certain sensitive information from our search
results," Andrew McLaughlin, senior policy counsel for Google, wrote on
the official Google blog on Jan. 27, 2006
. "We know that many people
are upset about this decision, and frankly, we understand that point of view.
This wasn't an easy choice, but in the end, we believe the course of action
we've chosen will prove to be the right one."
For years, McLaughlin added, "we've debated whether entering the Chinese
market at this point in history could be consistent with our mission and values.
... We ultimately reached our decision by asking ourselves which course would
most effectively further Google's mission to organize the world's information
and make it universally useful and accessible."
Although Kristof is a prominent reporter, it remains to be seen whether his
call for a boycott of Bing will have any substantial effect on the search
engine, especially if Microsoft makes good on its word to fix what it calls the
"bug" affecting results outside of China.