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Both Democrats and Republicans blame Microsoft for bending to China's censorship machine

US China Trade

Earlier this month, Bloomberg Businessweek published an investigative report about Microsoft's practices in the Chinese market; specifically, the fact that search results in Bing are being censored to comply with the local law.

This sparked a reaction in the Senate. Last week, Democrat Senator Mark Warner called on Microsoft to consider pulling Bing from China. This week, Republican Senator Marco Rubio voiced his concerns in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg, saying there is no defending of such practices from not only Microsoft but also any other U.S. company:

“Every company doing business in China makes concessions to a genocidal, authoritarian regime. American companies try to rationalise their choices to US lawmakers and regulators, but there is no defending censorship at the behest of the Chinese Communist Party.”

Beijing’s censorship machine is often referred to as "The Great Firewall of China". Companies on the market are forced to comply with requests for censorship of the content across the portfolio of their online services. This is the reason many Western companies left the market while others were banned due to the refusal to comply.

It is unclear whether the backlash from the Senate will force Microsoft to reconsider its position. The company’s initial response to Bloomberg’s report made it clear that Microsoft plans to keep operating Bing in China the same way it was up until this point:

“We only censor a result in response to a narrow legal order that we conclude obligates us to do so, and we regularly push back when we believe an order doesn’t comply with proper interpretation of Chinese rules. The alternative is to leave the market which would only serve to cut people off from information they otherwise have through Bing.”

With a second-place market share of 16.55% per Statcounter, Bing is doing extremely well in China compared to its worldwide share of just a little over three percent. One of the significant reasons is the fact that Google pulled from the Chinese market years ago.

Microsoft has experience with shutting services off in China, though. It pulled its professional social network LinkedIn from China in 2021. However, LinkedIn then launched its Chinese spinoff InCareer, only to shut down the service completely last year.

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