No error here: Microsoft deploying Chinese censorship on global scale

Microsoft has responded to our research about Bing search results after initially responding with a “no comment”. We have actually already addressed most of their rebuttal in our original article. Here are the highlights. From Microsoft:

We’ve conducted an investigation of the claims raised by Greatfire.org. First, Bing does not apply China’s legal requirements to searches conducted outside of China. Due to an error in our system, we triggered an incorrect results removal notification for some searches noted in the report but the results themselves are and were unaltered outside of China.

We sent our research findings to Microsoft before publishing our blog post with an explicit query as to whether or not the odd search results were the result of a technical mistake. Microsoft originally responded by saying: “Thanks for your inquiry. We have no comment on this topic.”.

Microsoft says: “[T]he results themselves are and were unaltered outside of China”. This is simply not true. Please refer to the comparison chart in our original blog post. The Guardian confirmed our testing results concerning the 达赖喇嘛 (Dalai Lama) and did their own tests for 薄熙来 (Bo Xilai). The newspaper reported:

A search on Bing in Chinese for Bo Xilai (薄熙来), the former high-flying Chinese government official now serving life imprisonment for corruption, shows equally different results. The top search result is again Baidu Baike. Wikipedia is the third entry. There are no western reports on the politician on the front page. In English the search is topped by Wikipedia, then by stories from the New York Times, BBC and Financial Times.

A Google search in Chinese starts with the Wikipedia page and then several news articles chronicling his downfall from sources including the BBC and Voice of America.

Most results are partially censored and hard to detect if you don’t read Chinese. But we selected a term that is completely censored so that even a non-Chinese reader can easily confirm that the censorship exists. Please click this link to do your own testing.


This notice translates to “Due to legal obligations imposed by Chinese laws and regulations, we have removed the results for these search terms. For more information, please see here.”

In addition, Microsoft has failed to address our point on the censorship policy for international Bing in China. We have shown that this version is heavily censored but Microsoft has again failed to comment on this issue.

With regards to the freeweibo.com homepage being absent from Bing search results, our investigation indicates that at some time in the past the page was marked as inappropriate due to low quality or adult content. After review, we have determined the page is acceptable for inclusion in global search results.

Bing aims to provide a robust set of high-quality, relevant search results to our users. In doing so, Bing has extremely high standards that respect human rights, privacy and freedom of expression.

As we explained in our blog post, we tested a search for “FreeWeibo” with safe search turned off. If the setting is off, often a search engine will return adult content. Ever with safe search “off” our index is still not shown, which runs contrary to Microsoft’s explanation. You can easily verify this for yourself. First turn off safe search, then click this link to confirm that none of the results come from FreeWeibo.com.

Microsoft’s alternate claim is that our site is “low quality”. FreeWeibo.com is widely quoted and linked to by international media such as BBC and The Guardian. The website has a Google page rank of 5 out of 10 (by way of comparison, theguardian.com has a page rank of 7/10). FreeWeibo.com would be in no way marked as spam content.

Microsoft is a signatory to the Global Network Initiative, which is an effort by a multi-stakeholder group of companies, civil society organizations (including human rights and press freedom groups), investors and academics to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy on the Internet. As part of our commitment to GNI, Microsoft follows a strict set of internal procedures for how we respond to specific demands from governments requiring us to block access to content. We apply these principles carefully and thoughtfully to our Bing version for the People’s Republic of China.

We are happy Microsoft has signalled its intention to operate according to GNI principles, but we again reiterate our call that they release a transparency report for Bing, worldwide. We also believe that this is the perfect time for Microsoft to drop its excessive global censorship policy on any version outside of China and International bing inside China.

This story shines a negative light on both Microsoft and China. We fully expect the Chinese authorities to continue with their draconian censorship practice. But for Microsoft, this is an enormous opportunity - do the right thing and stand up to Chinese censorship now. It has damaged your credibility with customers and China’s efforts to boost its image overseas.

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Tue, Jul 05, 2016

GreatFire.org now testing VPN speed and stability in China

There is a commonly held belief in China that if you have a VPN that works then you should keep quiet about it. In terms of freedom of access to information, the problem with this approach is that access to knowledge suddenly is a secret. Today we are launching a project that we hope will destroy that model.

Our newest website, Circumvention Central (CC), aims to provide real-time information and data about circumvention solutions that work in China. Since 2011, we have been collecting data about blocked websites in China and now we will add data about the effectiveness of VPNs and other circumvention tools.

We are launching CC with four main objectives in mind.

Our first objective is to help to grow the number of Chinese who circumvent censorship restrictions in China. By sharing our information and data about these tools, we hope to show a wider audience which circumvention tools are working.

Our second objective is to improve the circumvention experience for users in China by bringing transparency to tool performance. We will measure these tools on speed (how quickly popular websites are loaded) and on stability (the extent to which popular websites load successfully).

Sat, May 07, 2016

The New York Times vs. The Chinese Authorities

Could the New York Times be setting the best path forward for news organizations in China?

Thu, Feb 18, 2016

From the desk of Lu Wei: Apple, encryption and China

Lu Wei, Director of the Cyberspace Administration of China, offers some friendly help to FBI Director James Comey.

Thu, Sep 24, 2015

Apple blocked CNNIC CA months after MITM attacks

In March of this year, Google found unauthorized digital certificates for several Google domains. The root certificate authority for these domains was the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC). CNNIC was controlled by the Chinese government through the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and is now under the management of the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC). CNNIC was recognized by all major browsers as a trusted Certificate Authority. If CNNIC signs a fake certificate used in a man-in-the-middle attack, no browser will warn of any unusual activity unless the certificate is pinned.

After Google found these unauthorized certificates, both Google and Firefox revoked its trust in CNNIC a few days later, a development we at GreatFire.org have adovacting for since 2013. Apple and Microsoft on the other hand, did not revoke their trust in CNNIC, nor did they make any announcements regarding the security compromise.

Wed, Sep 23, 2015

Malicious Xcode could spread via download manager Xunlei

What’s at stake?

We reported last week that popular Chinese iOS apps were compromised in an unprecedented malware attack. We discovered that the source of the infection was compromised copies of Xcode hosted on Baidu Pan. Apple has published an article urging developers to download Xcode directly from the Mac App Store, or from the Apple Developer website and validate signatures. We’ve now discovered that even if a developer uses a download link seemingly from Apple, he might still be possible to obtain a compromised copy of Xcode.

Please note that we do not have evidence that such attacks has happened. But it is an easy attack that anyone can implement.

How does it work?

This compromise happened because of Xunlei. Xunlei is the most popular download manager in China. Much of its popularity is due to the fact they can accelerate download speeds by pulling resources from other Xunlei users as well as cached copies on the Xunlei server. All of this, however, is invisible to users. Users can simply enter a regular http download address into Xunlei  download manager and the download will start. Chinese developers were using direct download addresses such as http://adcdownload.apple.com/Developer_Tools/Xcode_7/Xcode_7.dmg to download Xcode.

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