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Bing Outage in China

Paul Mozur and Karen Weise, reporting for The New York Times:

Under China’s president, Xi Jinping, the last vestiges of the global internet have slowly disappeared from an online world that had already shut out Twitter, Google and Facebook.

Now one of the last survivors, Microsoft’s Bing search engine, appears to have joined them — even though the American company already censors its results in China.

The Chinese government appeared to block the search engine on Wednesday, in what would be a startling renunciation of more than a decade of efforts by Microsoft to engage with Beijing to make its products available. If the block proves to be permanent, it would suggest that Western companies can do little to persuade China to give them access to what has become the world’s largest internet market by users, especially at a time of increased trade and economic tensions with the United States.

It says everything you need to know about how closed China is that no one even knows if Bing is actually being censored or if it’s just a glitch. Update: Turns out it really was just a glitch.

With Bing, Microsoft tried to play by China’s rules. For example, a search for the Dalai Lama, the religious leader, would turn up state media accounts within China that accused him of stirring up hatred and separatism. Outside the country, it would point to sites like Wikipedia.

Other searches, like for Tiananmen Square or the Falun Gong religious group, were similarly scrubbed, though over the years users reported that using coded language could help turn up posts about some topics that were generally controlled.

My take on this is that if Western search engines are going to try to work in China, censored search terms should simply return a statement that this term is prohibited. Return no results at all rather than censored results. “This search term is prohibited” isn’t useful but at least it would be true. Turning up only state media results is false.

Thursday, 24 January 2019