Technology giant Microsoft has signed a deal with Baidu, China’s leading search engine, to power the company’s English-language searches—and, presumably, censor them to comply with Chinese government policies. According to The New York Times, the deal should be in place by the end of 2011. Financial terms of the arrangement were not disclosed, but typically a back-end search engine provider handles keyboard-based advertising that accompanies the search results, with a portion of ad revenue going back to whoever brought in the search term.
Baidu is China’s leading search engine, with Google in a very distant second place—and China is the world’s single largest Internet market. Following cyberattacks and difficulties with Chinese censorship requirements, Google largely withdrew its operations from China a year ago, pulling its Chinese-language search engine to Hong Kong where it wouldn’t have to comply with Chinese censorship requirements. Other Google services available in China—including Gmail—have also been subject to tampering and access issues. Google has continued to point a finger at the Chinese government over interference with its services.
Industry watchers see Microsoft’s partnership with Baidu as taking advantage of Google’s reluctance to participate in the Chinese marketplace—and giving Baidu access to a first-class English language search engine to handle the growing number of English queries it receives. However, Microsoft will almost certainly be required to censor English-language search results sent to users in mainland China; failure to do so would likely result in Microsoft losing a license to operate in the country. Chinese censors routinely block access to information the government believes to be disruptive or dangerous, including information about democracy, human rights, and criticism of Chinese authorities. Microsoft may also find itself required to hand over search records from Bing to assist Chinese authorities in prosecuting bloggers and human rights activists.