No error here: Microsoft deploying Chinese censorship on global scale

Microsoft has responded to our research about Bing search results after initially responding with a “no comment”. We have actually already addressed most of their rebuttal in our original article. Here are the highlights. From Microsoft:

We’ve conducted an investigation of the claims raised by Greatfire.org. First, Bing does not apply China’s legal requirements to searches conducted outside of China. Due to an error in our system, we triggered an incorrect results removal notification for some searches noted in the report but the results themselves are and were unaltered outside of China.

We sent our research findings to Microsoft before publishing our blog post with an explicit query as to whether or not the odd search results were the result of a technical mistake. Microsoft originally responded by saying: “Thanks for your inquiry. We have no comment on this topic.”.

Microsoft says: “[T]he results themselves are and were unaltered outside of China”. This is simply not true. Please refer to the comparison chart in our original blog post. The Guardian confirmed our testing results concerning the 达赖喇嘛 (Dalai Lama) and did their own tests for 薄熙来 (Bo Xilai). The newspaper reported:

A search on Bing in Chinese for Bo Xilai (薄熙来), the former high-flying Chinese government official now serving life imprisonment for corruption, shows equally different results. The top search result is again Baidu Baike. Wikipedia is the third entry. There are no western reports on the politician on the front page. In English the search is topped by Wikipedia, then by stories from the New York Times, BBC and Financial Times.

A Google search in Chinese starts with the Wikipedia page and then several news articles chronicling his downfall from sources including the BBC and Voice of America.

Most results are partially censored and hard to detect if you don’t read Chinese. But we selected a term that is completely censored so that even a non-Chinese reader can easily confirm that the censorship exists. Please click this link to do your own testing.


This notice translates to “Due to legal obligations imposed by Chinese laws and regulations, we have removed the results for these search terms. For more information, please see here.”

In addition, Microsoft has failed to address our point on the censorship policy for international Bing in China. We have shown that this version is heavily censored but Microsoft has again failed to comment on this issue.

With regards to the freeweibo.com homepage being absent from Bing search results, our investigation indicates that at some time in the past the page was marked as inappropriate due to low quality or adult content. After review, we have determined the page is acceptable for inclusion in global search results.

Bing aims to provide a robust set of high-quality, relevant search results to our users. In doing so, Bing has extremely high standards that respect human rights, privacy and freedom of expression.

As we explained in our blog post, we tested a search for “FreeWeibo” with safe search turned off. If the setting is off, often a search engine will return adult content. Ever with safe search “off” our index is still not shown, which runs contrary to Microsoft’s explanation. You can easily verify this for yourself. First turn off safe search, then click this link to confirm that none of the results come from FreeWeibo.com.

Microsoft’s alternate claim is that our site is “low quality”. FreeWeibo.com is widely quoted and linked to by international media such as BBC and The Guardian. The website has a Google page rank of 5 out of 10 (by way of comparison, theguardian.com has a page rank of 7/10). FreeWeibo.com would be in no way marked as spam content.

Microsoft is a signatory to the Global Network Initiative, which is an effort by a multi-stakeholder group of companies, civil society organizations (including human rights and press freedom groups), investors and academics to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy on the Internet. As part of our commitment to GNI, Microsoft follows a strict set of internal procedures for how we respond to specific demands from governments requiring us to block access to content. We apply these principles carefully and thoughtfully to our Bing version for the People’s Republic of China.

We are happy Microsoft has signalled its intention to operate according to GNI principles, but we again reiterate our call that they release a transparency report for Bing, worldwide. We also believe that this is the perfect time for Microsoft to drop its excessive global censorship policy on any version outside of China and International bing inside China.

This story shines a negative light on both Microsoft and China. We fully expect the Chinese authorities to continue with their draconian censorship practice. But for Microsoft, this is an enormous opportunity - do the right thing and stand up to Chinese censorship now. It has damaged your credibility with customers and China’s efforts to boost its image overseas.

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星期三, 3月 19, 2014

Bing Bests Baidu Censorship

Abstract

Independent research from Xia Chu has shown that, in addition to non-China content, Bing censors a vast amount of content that is hosted inside China and which is not censored by China-based internet companies like Baidu. After communicating our issues with Microsoft, Bing removed certain censorship rules (kudos to Bing), but much work remains to be done.

We recently called for Microsoft to release its transparency report for Bing (as have others - full disclosure, Rebecca sits on our advisory board).  Microsoft has yet to respond to this request. But Xia’s independent research of Bing’s China censorship policy could be regarded as a de facto transparency report for the search engine.

In this thorough study, the results of which we have verified, Xia examined Bing's SERP (search engine results page) for over 30,000 sensitive and nonsensitive query terms, and launched these queries from both inside and outside of China. Comparing and examining these results, plus querying with special search operators, reveals unprecedented detail on Bing's China filtering practices.

The main findings from Xia’s research include:

  • Bing has a list of “forbidden” terms where no results are shown. 139 such terms have been identified.

  • Bing has a blacklist of websites that it never shows to China users. 329 such websites are identified. (5 have been lifted after our communication with Microsoft.)

星期四, 2月 13, 2014

Setting Bing's Broken Record Straight

We can also now trace complicit Bing Chinese censorship back to 2009 as highlighted by Nicholas Kristof. It looks like Microsoft has indeed changed its censorship mechanism after our research made headlines this week. But Bing is still seriously flawed on two fronts: its algorithm favors pro-Chinese government websites by default on all search terms in simplified Chinese and their front end mistakenly delivers explicit censorship of search results on some search terms for users from all over the world.

星期二, 2月 11, 2014

Bing在全球实行中国式审查

星期四, 1月 23, 2014

中国在”精英的海外资产“报道后大量封锁外媒网站

国际调查记者同盟发布“机密文件披露中国精英的海外资产”后,中国大量封锁外媒网站。 以下网站都是因为转发此新闻被封锁。以往中国很少封锁外语网站。

网站

主语言

文章

http://www.icij.org

英文

中文

http://www.theguardian.com

英文

英文

星期三, 1月 22, 2014

Internet outage in China on Jan 21

Yesterday we witnessed one of the largest Internet outages ever in China. We have three theories about why this outage may have occurred - two related to the Falun Gong but our third theory is that the Chinese authorities set out to attack our unblockable mirror websites.

From 15:30 to 16:30 (China time) on January 21, DNS lookup to any domain would incorrectly resolve to 65.49.2.178. Websites inside and outside of China were affected. Even Baidu and Sina were inaccessible. Only software using IP directly (e.g. QQ, VPNs) worked during that time. Attempts to visit any website redirected to http://65.49.2.178, which didn’t respond during that time.  The overwhelming traffic to this IP likely crashed the server.

Timeline

Event

15:15

GFW DNS poisoning begins. First recorded instance.

15:17

Local DNS servers began to cache incorrect responses. Some large websites in China began to be affected e.g Sina Weibo.

 

Incorrect DNS continue to spread through Chinese DNS servers. Major websites including Baidu, Sina affected.

15:39

DNS poisoning lifted by GFW. But local DNS resolvers cached incorrect responses. Users continued to experience outage.

16:00

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