Cablegate: Microsoft Receives Complaints for Censoring Search Results in Hong Kong Without Government Demands

Posted in Asia, Cablegate, Microsoft at 2:35 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz


Summary: Insight into Microsoft’s censorship in China/Hong Kong and what was causing it (or not causing it)

CENSORSHIP in search is a subjective issue and in order to understand it better, one might wish to know who is pressuring who.

A manager from Microsoft “insisted Microsoft was not asked by the Hong Kong government or any other government to implement filtering but then said she would have to confirm this. She added that Microsoft had used this filtering functionality since Bing’s launch but that the strict setting in some Asia countries was implemented only in September 2009.”

It is also said “that Microsoft had not received any customer complaints or inquiries about the strict SafeSearch setting used in Hong Kong until the SCMP article appeared. She also noted that her office had received inquires from the Hong Kong government.”

Here is the full Cablegate cable.

DE RUEHHK #0112 0201048
P 201048Z JAN 10
E.O. 12958: N/A 
1.  (U) Hong Kong's major English daily, the South China 
Morning Post (SCMP), reported January 17 that both 
Yahoo.com.hk and Microsoft's Bing search engine in Hong Kong 
were now blocking adult content through the use of strict 
"SafeSearch" filters.  Users of the Yahoo-owned Flickr photo 
sharing website in Hong Kong were also reportedly prohibited 
from posting or sharing adult content.  Although users in 
most jurisdictions are able to customize search parameters to 
include or exclude adult content, Hong Kong users do not have 
that option.  The SCMP reported both Yahoo and Microsoft 
attributed their strict filtering to their desire to respect 
"local customs, norms and laws," and noted that both 
companies enforced similar restrictions in South Korea, India 
and Singapore. 
2.  (SBU) Yahoo! Asia Director for Public Policy Patrick Chu 
confirmed to EconOff that Yahoo! did use SafeSearch to filter 
pornographic images from its Hong Kong searches.  He denied 
the SCMP implication that this was a new policy, however. 
Yahoo! had been filtering adult content since 2007, said Chu. 
 Hong Kong law makes it an offense to publish obscene 
articles or pictures.  In the wake of legal cases in 2007 and 
2008 that resulted in fines for individuals convicted of 
linking to or posting lewd material, Yahoo! decided to filter 
searches to protect its local staff and directors, said Chu. 
Yahoo!'s decision to filter this material was purely its own, 
he said, and denied that the Hong Kong government had ever 
contacted Yahoo! Asia regarding its treatment of adult 
content.  Chu insisted that Yahoo! Asia was committed to 
internet freedom and did not filter searches for other 
content.  The SCMP article was the first time anyone had 
raised the issue since Yahoo! Asia began using SafeSearch, 
said Chu. 
3.  (SBU) Microsoft's Director of Legal and Corporate Affairs 
Winnie Yeung similarly told EconOff that Microsoft used 
SafeSearch to filter adult content from its Hong Kong 
searches.  Yeung felt the SCMP article was misleading since 
the strict SafeSearch setting was used in several Asian 
countries, not just Hong Kong.  The reason was that these 
countries were considered "more conservative."  She insisted 
Microsoft was not asked by the Hong Kong government or any 
other government to implement filtering but then said she 
would have to confirm this.  She added that Microsoft had 
used this filtering functionality since Bing's launch but 
that the strict setting in some Asia countries was 
implemented only in September 2009.  Yeung stated that 
Microsoft had not received any customer complaints or 
inquiries about the strict SafeSearch setting used in Hong 
Kong until the SCMP article appeared.  She also noted that 
her office had received inquires from the Hong Kong 

Around that same time Microsoft was slammed for censoring results not just for sexual content. Some called for a boycott, even in the New York Times.

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