Microsoft’s Bing search engine is back online in China after nearly a day of outages that caused many to believe the service had become the latest American technology product to be banned by the Chinese government. Users are now reporting that Bing is again accessible in mainland China, reports Bloomberg today, and the publication was able to independently verify that the search engine is again accessible from within the Great Firewall.
Internet users in China first began complaining that cn.bing.com was no longer available from within the country starting yesterday, but it was still accessible to those outside China. According to a report from the Financial Times, however, the state-owned telecom China Unicom appeared to confirm the order came from the government. We don’t how that miscommunication happened, but Microsoft at the time would not confirm or deny any details of the situation related to the government, only saying, "We’ve confirmed that Bing is currently inaccessible in China and are engaged to determine next steps."
In a new statement issued today, Microsoft still won’t disclose the cause of the outage, but says the search engine is back up and running. “We can confirm that Bing was inaccessible in China, but service is now restored,” a Microsoft spokesperson told The Verge.
It’s wouldn’t have been particularly unusual to see a Western website blocked from China’s increasingly restrictive internet — Twitch found itself banned back in September, and Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have been permanently banned for years. But a search engine finding itself banned would be notable for two reasons. Microsoft’s Bing is one of the few services developed by a US company to remain available in the country, despite competing with local government-connected services. Of course, Bing’s survival is largely due to Microsoft’s willingness to comply with the Chinese government’s censorship policies, but now even that has proved not enough for China. Under President Xi Jinping, who has solidified his power by abolishing term limits last year, China has grown more stringent with its control over the internet.
The second reason the decision would have been notable now is because of Google’s planned search product for the China market, a project known internally as Dragonfly and one that’s caused an immense backlash from both within and outside the company. Google previously operated in China until 2010, when it pulled out of the country in protest of the government’s policies on free speech and access to information.
As a result of Google’s absence, state-controlled Baidu has emerged as the country’s leading search provider, controlling more than 70 percent of the market. (Bing had around 2 percent of the market.) But now, Google is eyeing the China market as a potential growth opportunity, with CEO Sundar Pichai insisting to Congress last month that its plans for the country are in the exploratory stages. Striking a blow against Dragonfly last month was Google’s shutdown of the 265.com dummy search engine, which redirected to Baidu and was being used to collect data on what Chinese users might be likely to search for. Google reportedly shut down the data-collection part of the project in response to continue internal backlash.
With Bing back online and the reason for its outages unclear at the moment, it’s hard to say whether Google would have much luck getting its own product off the ground, especially if it pushes back against the government’s increasingly harsh stance around internet restrictions in response to stateside pressure.
Update 1/24, 1:53AM ET: Added Microsoft statement.
Update 1/24, 12:12PM ET: Clarified that Bing was unavailable in China due to outages and not because of any government intervention or ban. The headline has been updated to reflect this fact.
Update 1/24, 4:53PM ET: Added new statement from Microsoft.