Amid mounting controversy, Microsoft is denying allegations that its Bing search engine is filtering Chinese language results for users based in the United States.
“There has been discussion over the past day or so that Bing results for Chinese language queries done outside of China are somehow intentionally edited or incomplete for political censoring purposes,” said Stefan Weitz, senior director of Bing, in a company blog post. “We can emphatically confirm that they are not.”
The post, titled “Setting the Record Straight,” goes on to explain that the only times Bing takes steps to modify results “is to comply with local law or for quality or safety reasons such as child abuse or malware.”
Bing has come under fire for displaying results to users outside of China’s borders that seem to conform to that country’s restrictions on search engines. “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,” reported The Guardian on Feb. 11.
“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 simplified Chinese language searches on a series of controversial terms,” said the report. Those terms include the Dalai Lama of Tibet and disgraced Chinese government official Bo Xilai.
In the United States, Bing’s top Chinese results were found to favor government-sanctioned sources, contrasting with its English results—and Google’s for that matter—which often returned Wikipedia entries and Western news articles. Similar results were reported in Yahoo, which uses Bing as its search engine. Weitz chalked up the inconsistencies to a technical error and the way Bing handles searches in different languages.
The error caused the display of “a Chinese ‘removal notification’ message outside of China to users who have selected to view Bing’s People Republic of China version,” said Weitz. “This message was displayed outside of China with this PRC version of Bing where results were suppressed for any reason (child abuse content, spam, etc.),” he said, adding that the company is working on a fix.
Addressing the differences between Chinese and English results in Bing, Weitz said, “Searches in different languages are fundamentally different queries.” Offering a window into how Bing works, he said a “result may show lower in one language versus another for a variety of reasons, such as fewer users choosing that link in English results compared to users who searched in another language.”
The bottom line, according to Weitz, is that his company’s search engine did not intentionally adjust Chinese searches outside of the country. “Bing search results outside of China are not subject to and are not modified in any way based on Chinese law,” he assured.