Microsoft’s search engine Bing has been blocked in China, leaving the world’s largest population of Internet users without any access to well-known foreign search engines.
It is known around the world, that China imposes certain censorships on the content that can be accessed online. For all these years, Bing was only allowed to operate in China because it chose to comply with these censors.
“We’ve confirmed that Bing is currently inaccessible in China and are engaged to determine next steps,” a Microsoft spokesman in Beijing and Hong Kong told Variety, without providing further details. Bing was still inconsistently available for certain users Thursday, and there has not yet been a formal announcement as to whether the block is permanent or government-initiated.
Bing is the latest big U.S. tech service to be blocked in China since the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messaging service was cut off in 2017. Google also pulled out of search services in the country in 2010, in part due to the censorships. Last year, it was reported that Google was developing a new search engine for China. The project, however, seems to have been killed off for now.
This suspension also acts as an alarm for companies like Apple, which have recently increased their reliance on the burgeoning China market.
While this suspension is alarming, it is important to note that Bing was never very popular with Chinese users, owning just 2% of the market share as of December. The market leader in the Chinese search engine, Baidu, which owns 70% of the market per a Financial Times report. Microsoft does operate a research branch in Beijing and plans to open its biggest AI lab in Shanghai. The tech giant also owns LinkedIn, which censors content as well in order to operate in China.
Bing’s suspensions come at a time when Chinese leaders are at the World Economic Forum in Davos, promoting China as a nation that is pro-trade and open for business, in contrast to the increasingly protectionist policies adopted by the Trump administration.