Microsoft’s search engine has applied Chinese-style censorship to some North American searches, according to a new report, raising questions about the tech giant’s dedication to the flow of information on the internet.
Bing’s auto-fill search system, which lists word-based suggestions or the first few letters typed into a search box, hasn’t worked with names and terms the Chinese government is known to find politically sensitive , according to a new report from Citizen Lab, a public interest cybersecurity group. The organization found that in December last year, people inciting research suggesting links to Chinese party leaders, dissidents or other politically sensitive subjects were routinely censored.
Microsoft acknowledged and reportedly fixed the issue, telling a Wall Street Journal reporter that it was a technical error that affected people outside of China through settings intended for that country. “A small number of users may have encountered a misconfiguration that prevented valid auto-suggest terms from appearing, and we thank Citizen Lab for bringing this to our attention,” a spokeswoman for Microsoft, according to the Wall Street Journal. In a follow-up statement to CNET, a Microsoft spokeswoman added that autosuggestions on Bing are “largely based on the query itself”, and therefore, “not seeing an autosuggestion does not mean that it has been blocked”.
Citizen Lab claimed that whatever Microsoft’s intention, the result has harmed internet usage around the world. “The findings of this report again demonstrate that an Internet platform cannot facilitate free speech for one demographic of its users while applying broad political censorship against another demographic of its users,” they said. wrote the Citizen Lab researchers.
Citizen Lab’s report is the latest in a series of examples in which tech companies haveto encourage freedom of expression and the flow of information throughout the world. Microsoft in particular has been outspoken against the Chinese government, which often asks tech giants to censor politically sensitive information. This includes, for example, the history of the .
Microsoft isn’t the only tech company struggling with these issues. Apple has been widely criticized forits App Store among . Google also has a contentious relationship with the Chinese government, having but still seeing its android software .
Citizen Lab’s latest report on Microsoft follows a series of other investigations, including one that uncovered Apple-censored burns for products in China and Hong Kong. Citizen Lab is linked to the University of Toronto and has helped identify threats to free speech, such as thewhich targeted activists, journalists, politicians and business leaders.