Yesterday in a blog post, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof called for a boycott of Bing, because of the way it handles Chinese characters searches outside of China when searching for politically sensitive (to China) material.
Today in a blog post on the Search Blog, Adam Sohn responds, by first pointing out that some searches in Chinese do provide “very balanced web results”. Mr. Sohn goes on to say:
We recognize that we can continue to improve our relevancy and comprehensiveness in these web results and we will.
In addition, today’s investigations uncovered the fact that our image search is not functioning properly for queries entered using Simplified Chinese characters outside of the PRC. We have identified the bug and are at work on the fix. We expect to have this done before the Thanksgiving holiday.
Bing’s intent for these types of queries is to provide relevant and comprehensive results for our customers.
In the NY Times blog post, Kristof points out that Bing is certainly not alone in having issues dealing with links to sensitive Chinese information:
(This is an issue with Google as well, but to a much lesser extent. Google censors results on its search engine used within China, google.cn, but offers mostly uncensored results using simplified Chinese characters on its worldwide browser, google.com. However, some searches on google.com, such as images for Falun Gong, are also censored.)
It seems to us that the problem here is not so much with Bing, as it is with the oppressive nature of the Chinese government’s relationship with the internet. Why not call for a boycott of China until these issues are resolved? The Chinese government maintains a long list of blocked websites, including Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, and until recently, even the New York Times. The problems with Bing searches are occurring largely due to having to maintain separate functionality inside and outside of China. Yes, Bing looks like it missed something in image searches, and they’re working to fix it. But the much larger issue of the Chinese government’s relationship with the internet is the elephant in the room here. Why isn’t Nicholas Kristof calling for a boycott of China? Not as much Techmeme juice, perhaps?