×

Microsoft’s Bing Search Engine Blocked in China

Microsoft’s Bing search engine appears to have been blocked in China. The move leaves the world’s largest population of Internet users without access to any well-known foreign search engines.

Bing was only allowed to operate in China because it chose to comply with the stringent demands of Chinese censors, who run one of the most restrictive censorship regimes on the planet. But on Wednesday, users began to report that they were unable to access the site.

“We’ve confirmed that Bing is currently inaccessible in China and are engaged to determine next steps,” a Microsoft spokesman in Beijing and Hong Kong told Variety, without providing further details. Bing was still inconsistently available for certain users Thursday, and there has not yet been a formal announcement as to whether the block is permanent or government-initiated.

The Financial Times cited two anonymous sources as saying the block comes on government orders, and notes that the type of IP address retrieval error that occurs when visiting cn.bing.com is consistent with the type frequently used by Chinese authorities to block websites. The Cyberspace Administration of China did not respond to a request for comment.

Bing is the latest big U.S. tech service to be blocked in China since the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messaging service was cut off in 2017. Google pulled out of search services in the country in 2010, in part over concerns about censorship and hacking. It seems that the only English-language search engines now left available to Chinese users are extremely obscure ones such as Gibiru or Russia’s Yandex.

Bing’s troubles bode ill for foreign tech companies’ prospects in the Middle Kingdom, showing that even bending over backwards for years to operate on Beijing’s terms may not be rewarded with market access. Last year, it was reported that Google was developing a new search engine for China, but the notion of complying with Chinese censorship appeared to be too much for some of Google’s own staff, who appear to have killed off the project for now.

The apparent suspension of Bing also comes at a time when Chinese leaders are at the World Economic Forum in Davos promoting China as pro-trade and open for business, in contrast to the increasingly protectionist policies adopted by Donald Trump’s administration. Bing’s problems may now sound an alarm for companies like Apple that have increased their reliance on the burgeoning China market.

Beijing has increased government control over the Internet within China to unprecedented levels in the past year, scrubbing the web of any content deemed threatening to the ruling Communist Party. Authorities deleted about 6 million online posts and 26,000 “illegal websites” in 2018, the official Xinhua news agency said earlier this month.

Microsoft has tried its best to toe Beijing’s line. A search for “Tiananmen Square” on Bing’s regular website yields information about the 1989 student-led democracy protests that took place there as the top results, yet the same search on the Chinese platform brings up only state media articles about the square’s touristic value or propaganda events that took place there. Searches on Bing for “Dalai Lama” within China lead to official articles calling him a dangerous separatist; abroad, the search links to his Twitter or homepage.

Bing was never very popular with Chinese users, with its 2% market share as of December dwarfed by the Chinese Baidu search engine’s 70%, the Financial Times said, citing data from website traffic monitor StatCounter. But many in China are dissatisfied with Baidu, which has in recent years come under fire for overuse of paid search results and ads for dodgy medical practices.

Baidu’s NASDAQ-traded shares lost 4.1% to close at $160.39 per ADR on Wednesday after analysts at Citigroup cut their profit forecast for the company, and following publication of a highly critical article, “Baidu Has Died as a Search Engine,” by well-known blogger Fang Kecheng. Pre-market trading on Thursday pointed to Baidu shares recovering more than 1.5%.

Microsoft maintains a research branch in Beijing and plans to open its biggest AI lab in Shanghai. It also owns LinkedIn, which censors content as well in order to operate in China.

More Digital

  • Mokalik

    Nigeria’s Kunle Afolayan: African Audiences Shouldn’t Be ‘Second-Class’

    DURBAN–A young boy from a middle-class home gets an unconventional schooling in the ways of the world when he’s forced to apprentice at a mechanic’s workshop in a rough-and-tumble section of Lagos. “Mokalik” is the latest feature from Kunle Afolayan, a leading figure in the wave of filmmakers revitalizing the Nigerian film industry. The film [...]

  • SAG-AFTRA HQ

    SAG-AFTRA Ends Long Strike Against Ad Agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty

    SAG-AFTRA has ended its 10-month strike against Bartle Bogle Hegarty after the advertising agency agreed to sign the union’s new commercials contract. The union instructed its 160,000 members in September not to accept any work for BBH, which had been signed to SAG-AFTRA’s commercials contracts since 1999. The strike came two weeks after BBH publicly [...]

  • FaceApp is displayed on an iPhone,

    SAG-AFTRA Warns Members About FaceApp Terms of Use

    SAG-AFTRA is warning its 160,000 members about the “overreaching and invasive” terms of use for the FaceApp mobile application. FaceApp, developed by Russian company Wireless Lab, uses neural network technology to automatically generate transformations of faces in photographs. The app can be used to make users appear older, younger, or change gender. The terms include [...]

  • J. Cole

    Apple Music Launches 'Rap Life' Playlist

    Apple Music announced the launch of “Rap Life,” a new global playlist focusing on contemporary rap artists and culture. It replaces the former “The A-List: Hip-Hop” playlist. Said Ebro Darden, Apple Music’s Global Editorial Head of Hip-Hop and R&B: “We flipped it to dig deeper into into the lifestyle [and to] keep pushing the culture [...]

  • Billie Eilish

    ARRI, Mobile TV Group Back New Venture Revitalizing Streamed Concerts

    A new venture looking to bring a fresh approach to live-streaming concerts has gotten the backing of hardware heavyweights ARRI and Mobile TV Group. Wide+Close is launching with the mandate of shooting music performances with film cameras and cinematographers in order to give the content a more cinematic feel. “We want to take concert filming [...]

  • Fortnite Battle Royale

    How 'Fortnite' Fans Can Earn Loot by Watching YouTube Videos

    Epic Games and YouTube have teamed up with a special offer for “Fortnite” players — giving players of the popular battle-royale game rewards when they watch “Fortnite”-premiered content on the video platform. The catch: You have to watch at least 20 minutes of “Fortnite” special content or live esports broadcasts to receive the loot. Under [...]

  • Roku headquarters

    Roku Plans to Expand to Brazil, Other Countries (EXCLUSIVE)

    Roku plans to expand to multiple new territories in the coming months, Variety has learned. One of the first new markets for the company will likely be Brazil. An international expansion could help Roku grow its customer base, which in turn should lead to growing advertising revenues. Roku executives have been hinting at plans to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content