January 24, 2019 / 2:06 PM / 4 months ago

Access to Microsoft's Bing restored for some users in China

(Reuters) - Microsoft Corp’s Bing search engine was accessible for some internet users in mainland China late on Thursday, indicating that online access to the foreign technology service may have been restored within the country’s Great Firewall.

A man walks past the office of Microsoft in Beijing, China, January 24, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Bing’s website was accessible on mobile as well as broadband connections, though some users still reported occasional difficulties and it was not clear whether resumption to service was temporary or permanent.

Microsoft did not immediately respond to requests for comment. It said on Wednesday that Bing had been blocked in China and that it was trying to determine its next steps.

Searches performed on Bing’s China website at cn.bing.com from within mainland China on Wednesday directed users to a page saying the server could not be reached.

The government’s Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) watchdog did not respond to faxed questions about Bing’s blocked website.

Bing was the only major foreign search engine accessible from within China’s so-called Great Firewall, with Microsoft censoring search results on sensitive topics, in accordance with Chinese government policy.

Its main competitor in mainland China is Baidu, which this week pledged to improve its media aggregating service after a complaint about the quality of the service and its search results went viral on social media.

Should Bing be blocked, it would mark Microsoft’s second setback in China since November 2017, when its Skype internet phone call and messaging service was pulled from Apple and Android app stores.

Microsoft also has a partnership with Chinese data center provider 21Vianet to sell its Azure and Office 365 products.

Alphabet’s Google search platform has been blocked in China since 2010. Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in December that it has no plans to relaunch a search engine in China, though it is continuing to study the idea amid increased scrutiny of big technology firms.

China’s President Xi Jinping has accelerated control of the internet in China since 2016 as the ruling Communist Party has sought to crack down on dissent on social media.

In a statement on Wednesday, the CAC said it had deleted more than 7 million pieces of online information and 9,382 mobile apps.

The watchdog also criticized technology company Tencent’s news app for spreading “vulgar information”.

Reporting by Josh Horwitz in Shanghai and Gaurika Juneja in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Cate Cadell, Stephen Nellis and Vibhuti Sharma; Editing by Darren Schuettler and David Goodman

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