Microsoft’s Bing search engine has been blocked in China, removing the only major foreign search engine left in China following the retreat of Google’s search engine in 2010.
The move also makes Microsoft the latest major US tech company to be blocked in China since Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging app was blocked in 2017.
China prevents access to a vast variety of websites to restrict citizens’ access to information, using a system of censorship controls known as the “ great firewall”.
As part of a crackdown on online discourse, the government has tightened these controls in recent years.
“We’ve confirmed that Bing is currently inaccessible in China and are engaged to determine next step,” said a Microsoft spokesperson on Thursday.
Two sources familiar with the decision confirmed Bing was blocked. One of the sources said that China Unicom, one of China’s major state-owned telecoms companies, had received an order from the government to block Bing for “illegal content”, a catch-all explanation for censorship.
“As US-China tensions are increasing, China’s reliance on state control of telecoms companies to enforce blocks show the limits to the country ever opening up to foreign players,” said Duncan Clark, chair of consultancy BDA China.
“Blocks take a while to be applied, but it is rare to see the government decreasing pressure once it starts ratcheting up,” added Mr Clark.
Microsoft’s software and its operating system Windows is widely used in China, following decades of engagement with Beijing, and the company even developed a special edition of Windows for Chinese government use. Earlier this month the company opened a research and development centre in Shanghai.
Wednesday, mainland Chinese users wrote on social media that their attempts to access Bing’s China site, cn.bing.com, were failing, although some Chinese users were still able to connect. The cn.bing.com site is still accessible from outside China.
Attempts to access cn.bing.com from China resulted in a connection error. The connection error was caused by an inability for the Chinese nameservers — address books that match up website names to their digital locations — to correctly retrieve the IP address of Bing’s China platform. This form of nameserver corruption has been often used by the Chinese government to block platforms.
As of December 2018 Bing has held a 2 per cent market share in China, far behind Chinese industry leader Baidu with 70 per cent.
Bing enjoyed a niche market for English-language searches as the only remaining major English search engine in China.
The Cyberspace Administration of China did not immediately respond to a request for comment.