Microsoft says Bing is inaccessible in China as tensions grow (updated)

24 Jan 2019

Bing logo. Image: borysshevchuk/Depositphotos

Microsoft’s Bing search engine has been blocked in China and the firm is investigating the root cause.

Updated, 9.33am, 25 January 2019: Yesterday (24 January), Microsoft issued a statement on the restoration of Bing in China: “We can confirm that Bing was inaccessible in China, but service is now restored.” The firm did not provide details on what caused the outage. 

“We can confirm that Bing was inaccessible in China, but service is now restored,” Microsoft said it a statement.

Over the years, China’s ‘Great Firewall’ has blocked certain western internet influences, including services from Twitter, Facebook and Google. Up until recently, Microsoft’s Bing search engine was available for residents of the country to use, as it censored search results regarding topics the Chinese government classifies as ‘sensitive’.

This looks to have changed, however, according to a source cited by the Financial Times on Wednesday (23 January). The source said that a state-owned telecoms company, China Unicom, confirmed the government order to block the engine.

At some point on Wednesday, internet users in mainland China began to notice that was no longer accessible within the country. At the time of writing, the address is still accessible to those outside of China.

Microsoft is investigating

Microsoft provided a short statement, confirming that Bing is currently inaccessible. It added that it was “engaged to determine next steps”. At present, state-controlled search engine Baidu is the most popular in the country.

Microsoft has a well-established research division in Beijing, with plans to open a new artificial intelligence lab in China. Chinese data centre firm 21Vianet works with the US giant so it can offer its Azure and Office 365 cloud products to clients in the country.

A strict online regime

This kind of action by the government of Chinese president Xi Jingping is likely to cause concern in other large tech firms such as Apple and Google. Google made headlines over the last number of months when details of an exploratory project to create a search product for the Chinese market emerged.

Project Dragonfly ended up causing backlash both internally at the company and in the wider world for apparently aiming to comply with China’s strict online censorship demands. CEO Sundar Pichai said the company had “no plans” to relaunch a search engine in the country when questioned by US Congress.

The internet in China has grown stricter over the last several years as the Communist Party seeks to monitor and reduce rumblings of dissent on social media.

Yesterday, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) singled out Tencent’s news app for spreading so-called “vulgar information”. The CAC has also deleted more than 7m items from the web since 3 January, along with more than 9,300 smartphone apps, according to the South China Morning Post.

Bing logo. Image: borysshevchuk/Depositphotos

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects