Bing forces Arab users to keep it clean

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Microsoft's Bing is filtering out the sexy stuff in Arab countries, as well as terms like 'gay' or 'homosexual', the OpenNet Initiative has found.

Searches using keywords such as 'sex', 'lesbian' or 'penis' - but for some reason not 'vagina' - trigger a message which reads: "Your country or region requires a strict Bing SafeSearch setting, which filters out results that might return adult content."

The filters apply in both English and Arabic.

There are a couple of ways around the ban, the OpenNet Initiative helpfully points out. The filtering doesn't work if users report a non-Arab location, even if they're fibbing.

Also, in the Arabic version, using one of the naughty keywords in conjunction with something less rude works fine. So searching on 'sex' is banned, but 'sex stories' delivers hours of fun.

It seems only to be sex that's the problem, says the ONI. Politically sensitive terms weren't banned.

"Microsoft’s explanation as to why some search keywords return few or no results is that "sometimes websites are deliberately excluded from the results page to remove inappropriate content as determined by local practice, law, or regulation," says the ONI.

"It is unclear, however, whether Bing’s keyword filtering in the Arab countries is an initiative from Microsoft, or whether any or all of the Arab states have asked Microsoft to comply with local censorship practices or laws."