Microsoft's new "decision engine" Bing may help users get through clutter on the Internet to make better decisions, but officials in China have made it clear that the software behemoth has failed at one decision: to make snippets of sexually explicit material available in search results.
Bing includes a small video-preview feature called smart motion preview, which plays videos when a user navigates over it. The feature, while convenient for some, has landed Microsoft in hot water with some child-advocacy groups, including Virginia-based Enough is Enough.
And now, China has blocked Bing because of that same video-search feature.
Filtering and Blocking
In recent months, China's Internet Illegal Information Reporting Center, or CIIRC, has taken steps to filter and block images from the eyes of Internet users in China. Most recently, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has directed personal computers sold in the country to include filtering software to protect minors ages 10 through 16 by filtering pornographic and violent images and content.
Flickr and Twitter have also been blocked over the past several months, while Google-owned YouTube has been blocked since March.
Steven Lin, a marketing professional in Beijing and former journalist at the Economic Observer, has accounts on Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and Google, which he could not access because they had been blocked recently.
Lin, however, said "Flickr and Twitter [have] come back to life in mainland [China] shortly after the sensitive period," referencing the 20-year anniversary of the attacks on Tiananmen Square.
Lin recently tweeted about Microsoft's Bing also being blocked in China.
"Microsoft's Bing.com was among several Internet services that were blocked for customers in China on June 2," said Kevin Kutz, Microsoft's director of public affairs. "We are reaching out to the government to understand this decision and to find a way to move forward. As a charter member of the Global Network Initiative, Microsoft is committed to helping advance the free flow of information, and to encouraging transparency, due process and rule of law when it comes to Internet governance."
Microsoft has defended its decision engine by saying that Bing offers users control over what kind of search results they are willing to view. Bing users have Preferences options under a feature called Extras to choose from three different levels of search: strict, moderate and off.
The strict preference filters sexually explicit text, images and videos from search results. The moderate option filters sexually explicit images and videos, but not text. A third option, "off," allows users to view sexually explicit text, images and video in searches. When this option is chosen, Bing requires users to change the setting, and then click again to acknowledge that the user is over 18.
"We think our current search safety settings are solid, but at Microsoft we are always working on pushing this stuff farther," said Mike Nichols, general manager for Bing. "We also are listening to customers, and some have told us they want more control and they want it now."
Some of those customers include corporate network managers who are looking for ways to enforce SafeSearch settings at the network level.
As a result, Bing has told customers to add the case-sensitive code "&adlt=strict" to the end of a query, and no matter what the settings are for that search session, Bing will return the results in the strict setting.