Microsoft bing

Microsoft’s Bing Censors China Searches in North America, Report Says

Microsoft apparently censors autofill suggestions for searches on certain Chinese politicians and political events in North America, according to a report by The Citizen Lab published on May 19.

While typing a term like “Joe Biden” into Bing results in an “autofill” drop-down list suggesting popular search options, queries for President Xi Jinping, the late human rights activist Liu Xiaobo and research related to the Tiananmen Square Massacre are not. show such recommendations, according to the report.

“We have consistently found that Bing censors politically sensitive Chinese names over time, that their censorship covers multiple Chinese political topics, consists of at least two languages, English and Chinese, and applies to different regions. around the world, including China, the United States and Canada. —Citizen Lab Report

Less than a day after the report was released, a Microsoft spokeswoman said the company had responded to the issue, telling the Wall Street Journal, “A small number of users may have encountered a misconfiguration that prevented from bringing up some valid autosuggestion terms, and we thank Citizen Lab for bringing this to our attention.

Why is this important: The report raises questions about the potentially international reach of China’s official censorship and its infamous Great Firewall, which tries to clamp down on internet discussion that Beijing considers harmful.


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What does the Citizen Lab report say?

Research methodology : Citizen Lab’s analysis revealed that, in addition to the search query the user has typed so far, at least three variables affect the auto-suggestions provided by Bing: region setting, language setting, and geolocation. of the user, as determined by the user’s IP address. Using these factors, the researchers typed bilingual searches (English and Mandarin) for a variety of people, terms, and topics, referenced across multiple regions, some of them in mainland China, others in North America. . Based on the lack of autosuggestions and search results, the queries were classified into four categories.

  • Chinese policy refers to queries specifically mentioning Chinese political figures, topics and events.
  • Eroticism covers names with an erotic double meaning or a pornographic connotation.
  • eclipse cites results that have been overshadowed by more famous alternatives with similar names.
  • Warranties are searches that are collateral damage to the censorship applied in the other three categories.

The report notes that the “eclipsed” and “collateral” categories did not appear to be targeted for censorship.

Conclusion : In almost all locales tested by the researchers, censored Chinese character names were more likely to belong to the “Chinese politics” category, while censored English letter names were more likely to belong to the “eroticism” category. “, although each locale also censored “Chinese politics”. ” English letter names such as “Xi Jinping”, “Liu Xiaobo”, “Tiananmen Square” and “Tank Man”. The report also notes that in each region, the names censored by Chinese political censorship have varied over time.

The report found that the most common reason a name was “collaterally” censored was containing the name “Dick”, such as former US Vice President Dick Cheney. Other names and terms to be censored were those of pornographic performers and swear words.

Microsoft censorship also affects DuckDuckGo and Yahoo

“In addition to web usage, Bing also sees usage through its integration with several Microsoft products and through other search engines that use its data,” the report said.

Since Windows 8.1, Bing has been integrated into the Windows Start menu, providing auto-suggestions and search results for queries searched using the Windows Start menu search feature.

Bing is also the default search engine for Microsoft Edge, Microsoft’s Chromium-based cross-platform web browser. In fact, Bing’s Chinese political autosuggestion censorship also applies to DuckDuckGo and Yahoo, which use Bing’s autosuggestion data.

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DuckDuckGo, which is billed as a privacy-protecting search engine, actually has a close working relationship with Microsoft. CEO Gabriel Weinberg claimed that along with blocking non-search related trackers, DuckDuckGo blocks most third-party trackers except those owned by Microsoft. Although browser policy states that when you load their search results you are completely anonymous to ads, not even Microsoft Advertising can profile you.

DuckDuckGo’s privacy concerns go deeper than advertising anonymity. Its agreement with Microsoft prevents it from blocking the IT giant’s cross-site tracking requests and the secret data flow rule created for Microsoft to collect on non-MSFT domains.

Microsoft and Big Tech slammed over censorship claims

“If Microsoft had never engaged in Chinese censorship operations in the first place, there would be no way for them to spread to other regions.” — Jeffrey Knockel, Senior Research Associate, Citizen Lab, at The Wall Street Journal.

While other major US tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter decided to stay out of China due to their refusal to comply with strict censorship rules, Microsoft continued to do business there. This has led to frequent accusations that the company is acquiescing to censorship demands, including on LinkedIn, which began operating in China for seven years from 2014. In the past, the company has been found blocking the profiles of American journalists in China due to “prohibited content” on their profiles.

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In 2021, Bing blocked searches for “tank man”, the nickname of a Tiananmen Square protester. He claimed the blocking was due to an “accidental mistake”.

Microsoft isn’t the only tech company grappling with censorship allegations.

  • Apple has been widely criticized for censoring its App Store in China, among other reported privacy concessions such as storing customer data on Chinese government servers, using government-recommended encryption technology for customer data customers, sharing customer data with the government, proactively removing apps that are offensive to the Communist Party, and approving almost all requests to remove apps from authorities.
  • Google, also has a contentious relationship with the Chinese government, having removed its search engine from the country in 2010, while continuing to license its Android software that powers most phones there. In 2018, the search giant revealed Project Dragonfly, a censored search engine for China. Google employees opposed the project for enabling censorship, promoting misinformation and setting a precedent that would make it harder for Google to deny other countries similar concessions. Google ended the project in 2019.
  • Xiaomi devices were accused by the Lithuanian Ministry of Defense of having the built-in ability to detect and censor terms such as “Free Tibet”, “Women’s Committee” and “Long live Taiwan Independence” in September 2021. However, the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) on January 13, 2022, said it found no evidence of censorship capabilities in Xiaomi phones.

Citizen Lab’s latest report on Microsoft follows an earlier report that found Apple censored burns for products in China and Hong Kong. Citizen Lab is affiliated with the University of Toronto and has been able to identify threats to free speech, such as the Pegasus spyware operations that targeted activists, journalists and politicians around the world.

In India, the Pegasus line has reached the highest judicial level with the Supreme Court launching an investigation into whether the government used Pegasus to spy on jailed activists in the Bhima Koregaon case.

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