Microsoft’s search engine Bing has been inaccessible in mainland China since Wednesday afternoon, sparking heated public discussions about the fate of the last major Western search platform in China.
Reports from Chinese netizens about the inaccessibility of cn.bing.com—the company’s domestic domain—began flooding Chinese social media platforms, including WeChat and Weibo, on the same day.
The search engine was still inaccessible to TechNode as of 2 p.m. on Thursday, though intermittent availability has been reported by some Twitter users.
Microsoft confirmed to TechNode that Bing’s services are currently unavailable in China and that it is investigating the matter, but declined to give further details.
One theory circulating on the Chinese internet explains Bing’s outage as a consequence of an incident relating to rival search engine Baidu. Chinese reports claim that Bing’s servers may have been overloaded as disgruntled Baidu users flocked to Bing after Baidu was accused in a viral article by Chinese journalist Fang Kecheng of promoting low-quality articles on its content aggregator Baijiahao and other platforms.
Internet users have also linked the outage to possible censorship, claiming that the US search engine has become the latest victim of the Great Firewall, China’s mechanism for regulating the Chinese internet by blocking access to foreign websites.
“Bing has been blocked since yesterday. I thought it was a problem with my network connection, but it seems true now—even the cooperative Microsoft can’t escape doom,” a netizen posted microblogging platform Weibo. “What did Bing do to be blocked?” asked another.
First launched in 2009, Bing’s China search engine filters results relating to controversial subjects in order to operate in the country. The service controls a negligible share of the market as it faces tough competition from Chinese players including Baidu, Sogou, Shenma, and 360 Search.
Google has reportedly been looking to relaunch its search engine in China. Last year, the company confirmed it was developing a prototype for the Chinese market, dubbed Project Dragonfly. The project has since been shelved due to internal complaints.
Beijing has attempted to “clean up” the Chinese internet, a move which has accelerated recently. More than 700 websites and 9,300 apps have been shut down since the beginning of January, according to internet regulator the Cyber Administration of China.