Bing China censoring Chinese-language searches
Microsoft's search engine, Bing, has been accused of censoring its search results in China, a country notorious for its aggressive control on Internet freedom.
Search engines are among the most important tools on the Internet. While there is an almost limitless amount of information online, it can be difficult for a user to find what it is he or she is looking for. Through a search engine, an individual can have an easier time looking for content.
However, there are some limitations to this. The algorithms that companies like Google, Bing and Yahoo use are very specific in making sure a search returns the desired results. However, problems can arise with regard to who's desires are being fulfilled in these algorithms.
There are variety of factors that go into what kind of results show up in a search. Relevance and trends play a major role in what turns up, but so too can other variables. In certain country's where governments have major control over the Internet, there can be certain search results that are omitted. For instance, certain issues like a government crackdown or an instance of dictatorship could be omitted in certain countries.
In China, this issue has come up a lot. When a citizen searches for something like the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, they will either see no results or ones that glaze over the massacre. In the past Google has been criticized for its omitted search results, but now another computer giant is enabling these policies again.
Bing censoring results
Microsoft has come under fire recently following reports about the company's search engine, Bing, censoring politically sensitive search terms. The AFP reported that certain search terms, including 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and ones about the exiled leader Dalai Lama have been omitted.
The news source noted an Internet watchdog for the country's internet policy, Greatfire.org, reported that the search engine is returning different results for Chinese searches than it is English searches. The effects of such policies can be devastating given the fact that numerous citizens would not be able to access content that they otherwise would in other parts of the world. Further, there are forms of content and information that citizens are simply not able to access.
The AFP conducted its own tests of Bing and confirmed that certain results were being omitted in the Chinese language search.
Managing conflicting interests
GreatFire has been particularly critical of Bing and Microsoft following these revelations. While the company has said that these search results are not being censored, the organization has said this is simply not the case.
Bing has argued that the reason for the differing search results has emerged because the search queries in the Chinese language Bing and its English equivalent are fundamentally different. However, as GreatFire responded by noting that the results from the Chinese-language Bing are from government controlled publications.
"Of course, searching in different languages are completely different search queries. But we not merely comparing search results in different languages," the group wrote in a blog. "We compared the same search term in simplified Chinese in both Bing and Google and found that most results on Bing come from Chinese controlled media while Google presents foreign media, independent sites as well as media from China."
Because of the intricacies that arise from the complicated search engines, it can be difficult to pinpoint what is blatant censorship and what it actually just a flaw in the algorithm. However, GreatFire noted that based on the ways certain results are returned, it is actually assigning a much lower value to the websites that the country has deemed offensive. This is an instance in which censorship takes on a less explicit form, and needs to be acknowledged if the Chinese Internet is to become free.