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Microsoft’s Bing search engine has been unexpectedly blocked in China without any official statement from the government.
Microsoft has confirmed that its search engine is currently inaccessible in China after reports by several media entities saying Bing could no longer be accessed at least in certain parts of the country. Greatfire.org, a group that tracks which websites are blocked in China, pointed out that when China blocks a services, it takes some time for the blockade to spread across the country.
Chinese officials have refused to comment on the issue, but this is not particularly out of the ordinary for the Chinese government, which rarely discusses how or why it censors particular information sources.
Playing by China’s Rules Failed
When Google quit China, Microsoft saw that as an opportunity to take its place. Ever since, the company has done everything the government has asked of it and more, including censoring all content the Chinese government didn’t want its citizens to see. The company has even misdirected Chinese users to government’s own accounts about certain events or people. For instance, in China, Bing would redirect users to the government’s own content about Dalai Lama, while outside of the country it would link to Dalai Lama’s Wikipedia page.
In order to appease the Chinese government Microsoft also allowed real-time interception of Skype messages within the country. The company agreed to sell a "government-approved" version of Windows that would better comply with the country's laws, including the cybersecurity law requiring back doors in tech products. To build the government-approved version of Windows 10, Microsoft had to partner with a state-run company that makes electronics for the Chinese military. Chinese Electronics Technology Corporation is also a major supplier of surveillance technology in Xinjiang.
The news about Bing being blocked also comes days after a message about Baidu being “dead” as a search engine became viral in China. The message came from Fang Kecheng, a doctoral candidate at the Annenberg School for Communication at University of Pennsylvania. Fang accused Baidu, the dominant Chinese search engine in the country, of replacing many recommended web links and products with its own, thus becoming more of a marketing platform than a search engine.
“Bing compromised in order to have a Chinese version to get into the country. It would be pathetic if even this can’t exist. We have one less alternative," Fang said.
Google recently suffered a backlash and protests from its employees over the company’s covert attempt to get back into China. When caught, the company said that it would be better for the Chinese users if it offered a censored search engine rather than not being available there at all. However, it seems that this strategy may no longer work anyway under permanent president Xi Jinping.