For years, Microsoft’s Bing search engine has been available in China, despite the country’s strict online censorship. But those days may now be over.
On Wednesday, China began blocking the Bing search engine, making it the latest foreign website to be blocked from the country’s internet.
Users in China began noticing Bing was no longer accessible on Wednesday, which prompted Microsoft to investigate. “We’ve confirmed that Bing is currently inaccessible in China and are engaged to determine next steps,” a Microsoft spokesperson later told PCMag without elaborating.
What triggered China to block the search engine isn’t clear. But it occurred on a government order, according to The Financial Times, citing unnamed sources. Users who attempt to visit the site will now encounter a connection error.
Many other foreign websites including Google, Facebook and Twitter have also been blocked in the country over how they can offer unfiltered content, including information critical of the Chinese government. But the blocking of Bing is notable because the website actually followed the country’s strict rules on censoring search results. This allowed Bing to operate in the country when other foreign internet services and apps continue to be inaccessible. (To visit censored websites, users in China have to rely on VPN services, which can bypass the blocking. But the government has been trying to crack down on their use.)
Despite Bing’s presence in China, the search engine wasn’t very popular among local users. It had only a 2 percent share of the country’s search market, according to StatCounter. In contrast, the Chinese search engine Baidu has 70 percent.
Time will tell if the blocking proves to be permanent. But the incident is still bad news for any U.S. internet company thinking of expanding into China and playing by the country’s rules. Apparently, you can still get blocked. Not helping the matter is how the Trump administration and China are currently locked in a trade war.