As reported by the London-based Financial Times, Microsoft’s Bing search engine in China was blocked on Wednesday, January 23rd. This is relatively important news as Bing is the last major foreign search engine still operating a version of itself for the domestic Chinese market.
A Microsoft spokesperson stated on Thursday, “We’ve confirmed that Bing is currently inaccessible in China and are engaged to determine next step.”
Like all blocks that occur, the block was not immediately all encompassing and even during the outage, some users reported they were still able to access the service. However the majority of users reported that when trying to access the cn.bing.com site, they were receiving a connection error.
In short, the cn.bing.com address had been removed from DNS servers within China. DNS is the address book so that your computer knows where to go when you enter a URL. Since the URL for cn.bing.com had been removed from that address book, systems were unable to determine the address and thus failed to connect.
This prevented the average user from accessing the site, although there are no confirmations on whether the direct IP address was also blocked. The cn.bing.com address continued to be accessible from outside the Great Firewall.
According to reports on the matter, one of China’s major state-owned telecoms companies was told to block Bing for “illegal content”. This is relatively surprising as Microsoft works closely with the Chinese government to ensure that Bing has been accessible to the domestic market since entering China.
At time of writing, cn.bing.com is again accessible within China. This quick turnaround after a direct order to block the service is representative of how close Microsoft works with Chinese censorship authorities.
Even as the last survivor, Bing is rather irrelevant, only having a 2% search engine market share, in comparison to the primary competitor, Baidu with 70% market share.
During Google’s exit from China in 2010, brief outages were common prior to the total block. It is unlikely this is what we are seeing with Bing as Microsoft has never shied away from its willingness to work within the scope of Chinese laws.
Regardless, the “illegal content” that caused Bing to be blocked will unlikely be revealed as Chinese authorities rarely state their exact reasons for blocking sites or services.