Bing? That’s the Sound of Microsoft’s Search Engine Blocking All Things Gay For Arab Users

Bing.com is Microsoft’s search engine, or decision engine, if you quote their marketing speak. It’s their attempt to get the entire world to stop saying “Let me Google that” and start saying “Let me Bing that.” So what type of decisions is Bing churning out for Arab users searching for anything gay?


Bing users in Arab countries searching for “gay,” “lesbian,” or “homosexuality” are met with the warning, “Your country or region requires a strict Bing SafeSearch setting, which filters out results that might return adult content.” The Open Net Initiative says Bing filtered out the Arabic words for “sex”, “porn”, “intercourse”, “breast”, “nude”, “whore” and “sadism” in those countries, as well as “sex”, “fuck”, “penis”, “sodomy”, “homo”, “sexual”, “sexy”, “clitoris” and “anal.” “Vagina,” however, yields results.

And there’s no getting around it, at least not easily. Bing users in these countries cannot disable the SafeSearch option.

Is this part of a pact between Microsoft and these Arab governments to let the site do business there? Just like Google originally volunteered to censor results for Google.cn to please the Chinese government, Bing’s practice of censoring risque sexual words, and anything to do with homosexuality, could very well be a business move to curry favor with Arab states who frown on that tres Western idea of frank dialogue about sex. And the right to free porn.

And just when the company was working so hard to revamp its gay-unfriendly image.

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  • Cam

    WHAT?!?!?!? Is this a fucking joke?!?!? So basically Microsoft is telling us that if they had been promoting these tools back when South Africa had Aparteid that they would have had bing screen out words like “Equality”, “Freedom” etc…. I don’t know why I continue to be shocked by the world.

  • hardmannyc

    ^^^ Good thing the Internet wasn’t around in 1933. Microsoft would have banned “Torah,” “kosher,” “briss,” “mikvah” from Germany.

  • tiier

    the internet, that wonderful invention meant to connect the world is anything but. it just specifies societies, thats it.

  • sal(the original)

    there is more to the story…………….queerty, CHECK IT OUT

  • sal(the original)


  • sal(the original)

    ..some links are traps…

  • Jillian C. York

    Hi there, thanks for covering this (full disclosure – my name’s somewhere on the author page).

    Thanks so much for your analysis; I too am particularly surprised that Bing would ignore subtlety and lump together all of the Arab countries, particularly say, Lebanon, where LGBT dialogues are making great strides. Hoping that this paper might influence them to at least consider looking at each country’s laws individually.

  • Washingtion Guy

    I wonder that there has to be more to this store then that. I would wonder if part of it is that the such engine would not be allowed in with out such compromises (IE the country would not allow it legally) and another question would what is the other side of the store, although as a rule censorship is not a good thing.

  • Daniel

    The bigger question is why don’t Americans petition the US government to wipe out Mideast governments that profoundly violate human rights? Take Saudi Arabia, for instance – they persecute Christians and gay people. If the USA truly believes in freedom of religion and other very basic human rights then all the religious leaders and gay leaders in the USA should be demanding that the USA take out Saudi Arabia’s evil government (until you realize that the USA is the one that put that evil “royal” family into power in the first place, so time for the USA to correct its mistake and remove them).

  • Jillian C. York

    @Daniel: I think that’s a fairly naive assessment. Although I agree that the US should limit its relationship with Saudi, the solution is not to simply “wipe out” the government. What will happen then? Do you think forcing democracy will magically make people more tolerant? Do that, and you’ll end up with Hamas.

  • Daniel

    It’s not forcing democracy. It’s ending human rights violations that are being forced upon many people. Having religion forced upon you, for example, when it is not your religion of choice is atrocious. Ask any Christian in the USA whether they would ever accept being forced by government to kneel for Islamic prayers and forego any Christian gathering to understand the depth of violations being perpetuated against people who had the misfortune of being born under an oppressive government. The reality is that the USA keeps the 5th Fleet of the US Navy parked alongside Saudi Arabia to protect the oil fields of Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries because oil is more valuable to the US government (and the US people who do nothing to change things) than the human rights of millions of people in the region. It is hard for people, especially gay people, to acknowledge that the USA puts more value on oil for American commerce than on the lives of people, especially gay people.

  • Jillian C. York

    @Daniel: Daniel, I’m curious as to whether or not you’ve ever spoken to a Saudi.

    Again, I don’t support the Saudi regime as it stands, but you have to realize that, were democracy to be implemented there, it would likely cause the rise of yet another Wahhabi political party. Things would not change drastically for the Saudi population.

    Also, if you’re talking about protecting the lives of gay Saudis, I’m with you, but when it comes to religion, any efforts to convert Saudis to Christianity have come from the West. It is not native there. Perhaps I’m a bit confused by your example.

  • Daniel

    Yes, I’ve spoken to people from nearly all countries. And the notion that people born under an oppressive government somehow do not want freedom of religion to pick and practice their own religion as they want is something unique to the thinking of many Westerners. Oppressive governments often claim human rights are a Western invention, but that is simply because those same governments are violating the human rights of so many people and don’t want to own up to it. And yet these governments would be the first to scream to the heavens if, for example, the USA did not uphold freedom of religion – the hypocrisy is massive.

  • Jillian C. York

    I’m not saying they don’t, Daniel, I’m saying it’s not the job of the United States to uproot regimes. Real change needs to come from within a society. We can only assist, if asked.

  • Lukas P.

    Bing’s a lousy search engine anyway IMO. I tried it for about a week and was disappointed with the features, results and speed. Anyone else every try it?

    The “safe search” feature is going to be imperfect on any engine. It can ‘t keep up with new slang, synonyms, codespeak, and insider terminology. The Chinese experience with Google showed that the filter was far from perfect.

    Anyone looking for info on sex/lesbian/gay/erotic topics will figure out which words to use.

    Porn may be harder to find but it can/will be made stealth by embedding it on a page on an unrelated related topic. When a page on “Lamb Kebobs” gets 1 million hits in a day, it will get shut down and pop up under “Vacation in Turkey” the next week!

  • Jaroslaw

    Jillian – I agree Daniel is going too far when he asks that we “wipe out” governments but the way you have phrased it on posts 12 & 14 one would think the US is benign or neutral and we are not.

  • Jillian C. York

    Thanks Jaroslaw, but I don’t see how I implied that the US is benign or neutral. I most certainly don’t think it is. I stated before that that I don’t believe the US should uphold its current relationship with KSA.

  • terrwill

    To claim that the populations of the Mid Eastern countries are all clamoring for freedon and to shed the shackles of opressive ismamic regimes is a whole bunch of absolute bullshit. No one forces thousands of these scumbags to turn out and cheer the public hanging of two Gay teens. Or when a whole village turns out to watch the stoning of a teenage girl who was raped, her father and brothers among those casting the stones at her. We need to realize that these are different beings than us. They will never adapt or adopt to our ways. Their “cultures” have been “developed” over thousands of years. Their entire mindsets are different than ours. It is the best available proof that being Gay is born not learned. I have tremendous sympathy for the poor unfortunate Gays born into those cesspools. A massive earthquake to wipe those countries off the face of the earth couldn’t come soon enough for me……….

  • Daniel

    Don’t be naive. Only Westerners romanticize the notion that the Mid East is some “different world” incapable of upholding human rights because of “culture.” That’s the biggest excuse in the book to perpetuate human rights violations against minority populations. This isn’t Indiana Jones where there are still lost shangrilas around the world that are devoid of technology and modern understanding. Westerners need to stop thinking of Islam as A) a big massive single entity; it is just as varied and fragmented as Christianity and other religions, and B) that Islam isn’t just as saturated with politics as other religions (it’s all about controlling oil profits in places like Iran and Saudi Arabia; it’s greed and politics just like many-a Christian televangelist, for example,) and C) that just because an Islamist (or a Christian, etc.) government violates human rights that it somehow excuses it or justifies letting governments get away with it (the Christian government of Serbia was not justified in violating the human rights of minority Muslims). The USA has wiped out governments before (hello, Iraq anyone?) and Americans can petition the government because that’s democracy in the USA, the right to petition the government. The USA in World War II bravely wiped out the German government for mass human rights violations; isn’t that the point when diplomacy fails to end mass human rights violations? Isn’t that why dictators are overthrown throughout Africa and South America? Isn’t that why the USA was founded by Americans (to secure the human right to freedom of religion)? That is human history all over the world.

  • ChuckInSeattle

    A couple questions:
    1. What does Google and Yahoo and other search engines do? I don’t think you can throw Microsoft under the bus without commenting on and researching its compitition.
    2. Arabic-speaking world is big. Even the original article doesn’t specify which countries.

  • Jillian C. York

    @ChuckInSeattle: In reply to your second point, Bing does not specify specific countries. They call the region the “Arabian countries” and automatically supply people in at least 22 of the Arab countries with that version (those are the countries I’ve checked; I can’t speak for the other 5 or so Arabic-speaking locales).

    As for Google and Yahoo, I think the Google.cn debacle speaks for itself. Google continues to filter in France, Thailand, and a couple of other places. Yahoo is worse. We’ve done other research, see opennet.net.

  • Muscato

    A bit late for this thread, but for what it’s worth, Bing doesn’t seem to be doing any censoring in either English or Arabic in Oman. I’m wondering how fact-checked the Opennet Initiative’s report actually is.

  • Jillian C. York

    Muscato – That’s great news. In the OpenNet report, however, we state that we only tested in Syria, UAE, Jordan, and Algeria. Did you test the keyword list in Oman? If so, please do contact us and let us know what you find ([email protected])

  • Judson

    That’s good!

Comments are closed.