Updated: Microsoft's search engine Bing may be enforcing Chinese internet censorship globally, according to testing done by transparency campaign site Greatfire.
Greatfire tested both the international version of Bing and the localised, heavily censored Chinese version, both of which have their servers in the United States, and found many results were removed by the global version despite it being aimed at a non-Chinese audience.
iTnews was able to replicate Greatfire's results with different search terms. Searching for 自由微博 or 'FreeWeibo', a website providing uncensored and anonymous searches for popular social media site Sina Weibo, came back with the advisory "some results have been removed" on bing.com.
FreeWeibo is a service provided by Greatfire.
Greatfire also claims Bing's censorship of results can be subtle and at times not declared by the search engine.
The organisation said when searching for 达赖喇嘛 or 'Dalai Lama', most results returned are from Chinese newsportals with negative stories about the Tibetan leader. No notices of results removed or other censorship notices are displayed by Bing when searching for 'Dalai Lama'.
Greatfire tested searching for 'Dalai Lama' on Google and said it returns "an entirely different picture" with pro-Tibetan sites being displayed.
The contrast between Bing and Google 'Dalai Lama' search results is too big to be attributable to different search engine ranking algorithms, Greatfire said.
Similary, searching for 'Bo Xi Lai' (薄熙来), a former high-ranking Communist Party functionary now imprisoned for life for corruption, produces very different results on Bing compared to Google - no Western media sites are displayed when Chinese characters are entered into the search field.
But Microsoft has denied that its China-amendments have leaked into international results, instread attribing notifications to a software bug.
"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," said Bing's senior director Stefan Weitz.
"With regard 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," he said.