How Microsoft Bing Censors the Middle East

According to a paper written by ‘Berkman Center for Internet and Society’ researchers, Microsoft had been censoring some of their Bing results quite arbitrarily since 2009 back when their search engine was first launched. Apparently, Bing searches that originated from specific places in the world yielded Safe Search-only results, in an effort to forcefully steer the users clear from any ‘inappropriate’ content.

According to Bing, any results are remotely related to sex, or any LGBT-related content, should be considered inappropriate, and people who lived in specific countries should not be granted access to them by default.

The paper resulted in Microsoft lifting some of their limitations in some specific cases, in which they were falsely enforced. However, it appears that even now, Safe Search limitations are still being applied arbitrarily in some regions even after some years later.

When citizens of China, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, the Middle East, Singapore, Thailand and Turkey attempt to search a ‘taboo’ keyword in Bing, they may very well be presented with an automated message instead, stating that their country or region requires a strict Bing Safe Search setting which filters out results that might return adult content. How does a Region require anything?

Indeed, these countries, to name just a few, are categorized by Microsoft as ‘strict’ countries. That means that content searched that originates from these places should conform to the local laws as well as to local customs and social norms. Which I thought it was fine. At this point, it would make sense to wonder what they are thinking, since nobody should be forced to conform to anything but the law; anything more than that should be a matter of personal choice and certainly not the business of a company that is supposed to be protecting and promoting internet freedom!

And why would Microsoft bother to take censorship further than a country’s legal requirements? Frankly, we think that it’s easier for them to just lump together the regions that are located near or around an oppressed country and enforce the same rules to all of them. It looks a bit lazy to us to just disregard the people’s right to choose the type of content they wish to browse -not to mention how unethical it is to blatantly refuse them their rights to equal internet access for no reason at all!

Under no circumstances should a search engine or a company act as an intermediary, acting in accordance to the demands of strict regional repressive regimes. We understand that sometimes it’s unavoidable, but even if Microsoft was forced to heed an oppressive legal system’s dictates, they should take extra precautions to protect the rights of the citizens in nearby countries, instead of just brushing them off and putting them all together.

Microsoft’s reply was that people, who live in countries that shouldn’t fall under the ‘strict’ category, but somehow still get filtered results by default, could just change their account’s regional settings. But why should thousands of users take extra steps to change their account location settings, in order to be able to use Bing without any censored results? Why should they be logged into their user accounts 24/7, in order to not be treated as second-rate internet denizens? Couldn’t Microsoft just examine each country’s case individually and customize their regional Safe Search settings accordingly, instead?

Posted in Other News.

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