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Bing China freezes auto-suggestions at Beijing's request

There's nothing like a bit of good ol' filial piety

Everyone's favorite search engine (no, the other one) is caving to pressure and turning off suggestion algorithms for Chinese users.

Microsoft has disabled Bing's auto-suggest functionality at the behest of Beijing, from where the Chinese Communist Party has waged war on algorithms since last year. Microsoft announced the suspension on its local Chinese website, and Chinese users reported noticing changes this past Saturday. 

This isn't the first time the Chinese government and Microsoft have faced off over Bing's auto-suggestion algorithm. The South China Morning Post reported an identical request last December, the only difference being the length of time China wanted the feature turned off: 30 days then, and just a week now. 

China's beef with algorithms appears to be all about state control: Algorithms don't just promote good stuff that makes people happy. Bad use of algorithms, China's State Information Office said (translated automatically), "affects the normal communication order, market order and social order, posing challenges to maintaining ideological security, social fairness and justice and the legitimate rights and interests of netizens." 

The Middle Kingdom's stated goal is to create strong governance mechanisms and a regulatory system ensuring ethical use of tech. Algorithms that follow positive ecological practices isn't bad, either.

Unfortunately, the application of said rules may have been a bit more heavy-handed. SCMP also reported on Chinese algorithm regulations enacted in January 2022 that took effect on March 1st, which it cites as a possible cause for Bing's suggestion freeze.

The new algorithm regulation directs app operators that make extensive use of algorithms (Bing, Alibaba, and a whole host of social networking sites were affected) to use them to allow users to opt out of personalizations, while also ensuring they "promote positive energy."

Bing is one of the only US internet services openly allowed into China, with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and others being blocked by the Middle Kingdom's Great Firewall (accessible only via VPNs), and some (like Yahoo) closing up shop due to increasingly hostile regulations and business difficulties associated with them.

On its Chinese-facing website, Bing said it "remains committed to respect[ing] the rule of law and users' right to access information and to help users find information to the greatest extent feasible under applicable laws." 

Microsoft didn't elaborate on how or why China took the action, whether it had violated any laws or was preemptively asked to cease service, or to what end it had paused the services for such a short period. Additional questions to Microsoft were unanswered at the time of publication. ® 

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