Microsoft censors suggestions on its Bing search engine for American users looking up Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Tiananmen Square protests’ “tank man” and other politically sensitive terms, according to a new study.
While typing in a term like “Joe Biden” into Bing results in a drop-down “autofill” box suggesting popular search options, Microsoft removed the box for American and Canadian users searching hot-button Chinese terms, researchers from Citizen Lab said.
Other names allegedly censored by Bing include Li Wenliang, a doctor-turned-whistleblower in Wuhan who angered Chinese authorities by speaking out about the severity of the coronavirus in early 2020; Guo Wengui, an exiled Chinese billionaire affiliated with Trump adviser Steve Bannon; and Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, a key figure in Tibetan Buddhism who was kidnapped by Chinese authorities at the age of six.
“We consistently found that Bing censors politically sensitive Chinese names over time, that their censorship spans multiple Chinese political topics, consists of at least two languages, English and Chinese, and applies to different world regions, including China, the United States, and Canada,” wrote the Citizen Lab researchers, who are affiliated with the University of Toronto.
Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A Microsoft spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal it had addressed the issue, saying, “a small number of users may have experienced a misconfiguration that prevented surfacing some valid autosuggest terms, and we thank Citizen Lab for bringing this to our attention.”
The news underscores Microsoft’s extensive business in China. The tech giant employs thousands of researchers in the country and is currently hiring up in the city of Suzhou for a secretive real estate team, The Post exclusively reported on Monday.
The company has long considered cooperating with the Chinese government to be a reasonable cost of doing business in the country.
Until October 2021, Microsoft ran a censored version of careers site LinkedIn that had repeatedly obeyed government orders to take down posts from journalists, academics and other dissidents.
After facing scrutiny from activists, Microsoft shut down LinkedIn China due to “greater compliance requirements” and said it would replace it with a new careers site that does not include the ability to share articles or make posts.
In addition, Bing caught flak in 2021 when it censored images of the Tiananmen “tank man” in the US and Europe on the 32nd anniversary of the massacre. Microsoft attributed the censorship to “accidental human error.”
Microsoft also removed the autofill feature from Bing in China last year amid pressure in a move it said was required to comply with local laws.