Microsoft's Bing search engine inaccessible in China (Update)

January 23, 2019
Microsoft's Bing search engine is inaccessible to users in China

Microsoft's Bing search engine was inaccessible in China on Thursday, with social media users fearing it could be the latest foreign website to be blocked by censors.

Attempts to open cn.bing.com has resulted in an error message for users since Wednesday, taking away the most prominent foreign search engine available in China.

"We've confirmed that Bing is currently inaccessible in China and are engaged to determine next steps," a Microsoft spokesperson said in a brief statement, hours after saying the company was investigating the matter.

China's Communist authorities operate an online censorship apparatus known as the "Great Firewall", which blocks a slew of websites including Facebook, Twitter and several foreign media outlets.

But it was not clear whether or not Bing had joined the list of prohibited websites, or if its China service was experiencing technical difficulties. The search engine had been censoring searches in China.

The wording of the US company's statement "means Microsoft received no government order, but clearly China has the power to block a URL and that may be what happened," said independent US tech analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group.

"China has been aggressive in terms of controlling the media, 'censorship' is kind of their middle name. If there were searches going on providing results the Chinese government didn't like, it wouldn't surprise me if they blocked the site," Enderle said.

But the analyst said it could also be a "hack gone wrong".

China's cyberspace administration did not immediately return a request for comment.

Walled off

China's Great Firewall can be circumvented by using a virtual private network (VPN), which can hide a user's IP address.

While its rival Google shut down its search engine in China in 2010 after rows over censorship and hacking, Bing has continued to operate in the country along with Microsoft-owned Skype.

On Weibo, China's Twitter-like social media site, people complained about the lack of access, with some speculating that Bing too had been "walled off".

Others aired their dissatisfaction about having to use Baidu, China's largest domestic search service.

Internet users in China have been unable to use the Bing search engine
"Even Bing requires a VPN now, how exhausting," wrote one user.

"Our country is amazing, even the obedient Bing has been walled off, while Baidu flourishes," said another. "Thank you wise party leaders!"

'Tit-for-tat'

China has tightened policing of the internet in recent years, shuttering 26,000 "illegal" websites in 2018 alone and deleting six million online posts containing vulgar content, the official Xinhua news agency said earlier this month.

Bing complies with Chinese censorship rules, but its link to US tech giant Microsoft might have put it in the government's crosshairs as Beijing and Washington spar over trade and tech issues.

"The fact that Bing is run by Microsoft, which is not a Chinese company, means that Beijing has less leverage over the company, compared to say Baidu," said Lokman Tsui, an assistant professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The block is also "mostly symbolic," given Bing's tiny market share in China, he told AFP.

Tsui also noted that there is growing concern over China's slowing economy, and that June will see the highly sensitive 30th anniversary of the violent suppression of democracy protests in Tiananmen in 1989.

"Beijing needs to look like they are in charge and in power," he said.

The United States and China are locked in a bruising trade war, with US accusations that China steals technological know-how among the core disagreements.

Washington has also led efforts to blacklist Chinese telecoms giant Huawei internationally over security concerns, and one of the company's top executives, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Canada last month over fraud allegations on a US request.

The two sides are scheduled for new trade negotiations next week.

"Given Washington's bid to contain Huawei, China is sharpening its moves against the American tech industry, especially those affiliated with Silicon Valley," Tom Fowdy, an independent Beijing-based political analyst, told AFP.

"So in some ways, it could be tit-for-tat," he added. "'You contain our leading technology and software companies, we will contain yours'."

Explore further: Baidu teams up with Microsoft for English searches

Related Stories

Unit of China's Alibaba to launch search engine

October 12, 2010

A unit of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group said Tuesday it had launched a search engine, in an apparent effort to capitalise on Google's shrinking market share in China.

Recommended for you

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.

The friendly extortioner takes it all

February 15, 2019

Cooperating with other people makes many things easier. However, competition is also a characteristic aspect of our society. In their struggle for contracts and positions, people have to be more successful than their competitors ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.