This year is already proving to be challenging for Microsoft’s Bing. It appears as of Wednesday that the search engine is no longer accessible in China, even despite the company’s commitment to censoring its search results.
The Financial Times reported Wednesday that it spoke with two sources who said that Bing was barred on a directive from the Chinese government. While it is unclear what prompted the apparent ban, state-run Chinese telecoms company China Unicom may have been told to axe Bing’s search engine on censorship grounds, the Financial Times said.
A Microsoft spokesperson told Gizmodo in a statement by email that it has “confirmed that Bing is currently inaccessible in China and [is] engaged to determine next steps.”
Most of the sources from which many of us regularly get our news are already blocked in China, including social media titans like Facebook and Twitter. The Financial Times noted that Microsoft was one of the last foreign search tools still maintaining a presence in the country before Wednesday. Google pulled its search engine from the market back in 2010—but whether it will remain that way is currently a hot button issue.
As the Verge noted, Bing’s apparent blacklisting raises questions about the future of Google’s Project Dragonfly. The polarizing, previously hush-hush project for a censored Chinese search product has sparked outrage from activists as well as Google employees, more than 700 of whom signed an open letter in November calling on the company’s leadership to end any development of the project.
“The Chinese government certainly isn’t alone in its readiness to stifle freedom of expression, and to use surveillance to repress dissent,” the letter read. “Dragonfly in China would establish a dangerous precedent at a volatile political moment, one that would make it harder for Google to deny other countries similar concessions.”
Google CEO Sundar Pichai—who has defended even a censored search engine by Google in China as a better option than not having one at all—said during a House Judiciary Committee hearing last month that the company didn’t have plans to launch such a product “right now.” But his pointed non-answer insinuated that it wasn’t completely off the table either.
Aside from apparently being barred in China, it hasn’t been an especially great month for Bing. Just weeks ago, the company faced fallout from a TechCrunch report that found its search engine was surfacing child pornography in its results.
Update 1/24/19 4:40 p.m. ET: A Microsoft spokesperson told Gizmodo that after a temporary lapse, Bing is once again accessible in China:
“We can confirm that Bing was inaccessible in China, but service is now restored,” a spokesperson said. The company did not provide any additional details on what may have led to the interruption.