Microsoft’s Bing suspends auto search suggest function in China

Bing, a web search engine owned and developed by Microsoft, announced the suspension of the search auto-suggestion feature in mainland China for 30 days at the Chinese government’s behest. They cited the “global search platform…remains committed to respecting the rule of law and users’ right to access information and to help users find information to the greatest extent feasible under applicable laws.” The exact reason for the suspension is not mentioned, but this change will naturally impact the search engine’s user base, with the auto search a convenient feature.

The only major foreign search engine that has so far still been available in mainland China has been the latest impacted in the wake of China’s stiffer regulatory crackdowns on Internet companies. Following the implementation of China’s first “comprehensive” legislation on personal data protection, Internet companies are required to provide users with preferences not specific to their personal features with easy opt-out options available, on top of other regulations on dealing and processing sensitive users’ information.

Since the new law came into effect on 1 November this year, internet companies and tech firms have been hit hard, with Microsoft’s professional social networking arm LinkedIn first announcing its retreat from China this October out of the government’s hefty compliance requirements.

The service now has been replaced with a job-searching only app called InJobs, which has been rolling out recently in mainland China. The new product has so far faced negativism with its core function, social networking through online feeds and posts, being removed. Also pulling out was Yahoo, soon after the implementation of the new law, citing “challenging” business conditions, showing the difficulty seen in this market for foreign tech companies.

It can be expected that the struggles facing Internet companies like Microsoft would be continued as a result of Beijing’s tightened control over data and online content. These requirements while might have provided a better solution to protecting personal information, it has also inevitably restrained the online experience of Internet users within the region.

It remains to be seen what further impacts of China’s harsher stance on Internet regulation would be on the business. The latest episode has also cast doubt on the future of the only foreign search service provider in China and any potential foreign tech companies that seek to gain more space in the Chinese digital landscape.

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