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Microsoft Denies Censoring Bing Chinese Search Results


FILE - Microsoft vendor Patrick Porter works on a laptop marked with the logo for Bing in a cafeteria at the company in Redmond, Washington.

FILE - Microsoft vendor Patrick Porter works on a laptop marked with the logo for Bing in a cafeteria at the company in Redmond, Washington.

The U.S. technology giant Microsoft has rejected allegations that its Bing search engine censors Chinese language results for users in the United States.

Bing on Wednesday denied the censorship accusations. In a statement, Bing said it does not apply China's legal requirements to searches conducted outside of China.

It did acknowledge, however, that an error in its system triggered "incorrect results removal notification for some searches." But it insisted the results themselves were uncensored outside of China.

Earlier, an Internet freedom advocacy group, GreatFire.org, said censored results are appearing for search terms such as the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader who is regarded by Beijing as a "splittist."

Percy Alpha, with GreatFire.org, told VOA that Bing appeared to be filtering out links and stories that Chinese authorities would view as damaging.

A screenshot of the search results on Bing's Chinese site for the term 'Dalai Lama'

A screenshot of the search results on Bing's Chinese site for the term 'Dalai Lama'

"If I search Dalai Lama, almost all results on the first page, even on international Bing, are from Chinese [state-controlled] media...and the Bing results mostly portray Dalai Lama in a negative way," said Alpha.

In our internal testing at VOA, using search terms commonly blocked or censored in China, such as “Dalai Lama (达赖喇嘛)” and “Bo Xilai (薄熙来)”, results in Mandarin gave high ranking mostly to official Chinese sites or domestic Chinese sites that can be controlled by Beijing. The English searches had a much different result, displaying mostly western outlets. The searches were done using Bing.com in Washington.

We also did a identical test using Bing's rival, Google, and came up with very different results in Mandarin, but similar results in English.

Western companies have long been accused of complying with censorship demands in order to do business in China, which has nearly 600 million Internet users.

A screenshot of the search results on Google's Chinese site for the term 'Dalai Lama'

A screenshot of the search results on Google's Chinese site for the term 'Dalai Lama'

But Alpha said what made this case different was that Microsoft appeared to be filtering certain results not only for users in mainland China, but also in the United States.

Responding to the Bing statement, Alpha told VOA that nothing has changed, and that the results were still "clearly altered."

Alpha believed business interests may be at play.

"Microsoft has traditionally a really good relationship with China compared to other IT companies. So I think Chinese authorities may have asked them for a favor and they just did it. And there's a huge market share in China. Even though the server itself is not in China, Microsoft has huge business interests in China. Therefore, they might just comply with Chinese authorities to keep a good relationship with them," said Alpha.

Microsoft has been slammed in the past by rights groups for censoring the Chinese version of Skype. It also drew condemnation in 2005 when it shut down the Chinese-language blog of journalist and activist Michael Anti.

Paris Huang contributed to this report from Washington.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Mandarin service.
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