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Microsoft denies reports of scrubbing Chinese-language Bing searches

Activists say results are heavily doctored – even in US

Great Wall of China

Microsoft's Bing search engine is returning suspiciously pro-state results for Chinese-language searches even when those searches come from outside of China, activists claim.

The Guardian noted that a number of Chinese-language activist blogs are reporting that the results they have been seeing on Bing searches from within the US are very different than those returned from English-language search queries.

According to the reports, users who search in Chinese for terms controversial in mainland China will often get pages which are state-sponsored or authored by groups and organizations allied with the Chinese government.

Among the queries returning the specific results were The Dalai Lama, Falun Gong and the June 4 (Tienanmen Square) protests.

Meanwhile, searching the same terms in English, say the activists, returns a different set of sites with much less of a pro-China tone.

Further complicating matters, using similar tactics searching both Chinese and English terms on Google Search showed no such discrepancy, as the engine returned similar page results in both language searches.

Microsoft, for its part, has denied that it has doctored its results, saying that a combination of systems errors and incorrectly-flagged pages lead to the results noted in the reports.

"Bing does not apply China’s legal requirements to searches conducted outside of China,: Bing senior director Stefan Weitz said in a statement provided to The Reg.

"Due to an error in our system, we triggered an incorrect results removal notification for some searches noted in the report but the results themselves are and were unaltered outside of China."

Chinese state officials have long been known to be monitoring and censoring much of the online content in the mainland of the country. Dubbed the Great Firewall, the network is able to filter out content deemed too "controversial" and has long been a foil of digital rights and anti-censorship groups.

The role of private companies in China's internet policies has long been a point of contention. Many firms have been forced to weigh the potential for lucrative contract deals and a massive untapped market with the strict controls required by Chinese officials for firms that do business in the country. ®

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