Microsoft’s Bing search engine is the latest American technology service to become inaccessible in China, according to a report from the Financial Times. Starting at some point today, internet users in mainland China began complaining that cn.bing.com was no longer available from within the country; it is still accessible to those outside China at the moment. According to sources speaking anonymously with the FT, the state-owned telecom China Unicom has confirmed the order came from the government. We don’t yet know what may have triggered the ban.
It’s not particularly unusual to see a Western website blocked from China’s increasingly restrictive internet — Twitch found itself banned back in September, and Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have been permanently banned for years. But a search engine finding itself banned is notable for two reasons. Microsoft’s Bing was one of the few services developed by a US company to remain available in the country, despite competing with local government-connected services. Of course, Bing’s survival was due to Microsoft’s willingness to comply with the Chinese government’s censorship policies, but now even that has proved not enough for China. Under President Xi Jinping, who has solidified his power by abolishing term limits last year, China has grown more stringent with its control over the internet.
The second reason the decision is notable now is because of Google’s planned search product for the China market, a project known internally as Dragonfly and one that’s caused an immense backlash from both within and outside the company. Google previously operated in China until 2010, when it pulled out of the country in protest of the government’s policies on free speech and access to information.
As a result of Google’s absence, state-controlled Baidu has emerged as the country’s leading search provider, controlling more than 70 percent of the market. (Bing had around 2 percent of the market.) But now, Google is eyeing the China market as a potential growth opportunity, with CEO Sundar Pichai insisting to Congress last month that its plans for the country are in the exploratory stages. Striking a blow against Dragonfly last month was Google’s shutdown of the 265.com dummy search engine, which redirected to Baidu and was being used to collect data on what Chinese users might be likely to search for. Google reportedly shut down the data-collection part of the project in response to continue internal backlash.
With Bing gone and the reason for its ejection unclear at the moment, it’s hard to say whether Google would have much luck getting its product off the ground, especially if it pushes back against the government’s increasingly harsh stance around internet restrictions. In a statement given to VentureBeat, Microsoft said it’s looking into the issue, but the company has not yet confirmed that Bing is down due to any kind of Chinese government intervention or outright ban. “We’re aware of reports that Bing may be inaccessible to some customers in China and are investigating,” a Microsoft spokesperson said.