The Microsoft search engine, Bing, appears to have been blocked in China since Wednesday. Bing was one of the last well-known foreign search engines operating in the country.
Although Bing only enjoyed about 2 percent of China's search engine market its banishment is symbolic in a country known for controlling electronic access to information. With Bing blocked, China's citizens now have even fewer options for finding information on the internet.
"We've confirmed that Bing is currently inaccessible in China and are engaged to determine next steps," a Microsoft spokesman told NPR in a statement.
NPR's Shanghai Correspondent Rob Schmitz confirms the search engine is unavailable. "Chinese internet users first started noticing problems on Wednesday with the site, when it was inaccessible inside China's so-called Great Firewall. China's internet regulator has yet to comment on the issue."
Bing had been allowed to operate in the country because it censored search results, Schmitz reports. Microsoft is also part of the Internet Society of China, "a government-linked body whose members refrain from establishing links to websites that contain information deemed harmful by China's Communist Party," Schmitz says.
The Financial Times cites "two sources familiar with the government's order," who confirmed that China had blocked the search engine.
Chinese tech company, Baidu, which controls around 70 percent of the market, complies with government censorship policies.
Major global internet companies have long been blocked in China. Facebook, which has been blocked in China for the last decade, momentarily had plans to open a subsidiary in China last year, before approval was withdrawn. In addition to blocking Twitter, Chinese authorities have been known to delete the posts of users who manage to get around the ban, by hacking into their accounts. Google exited the Chinese market in 2010, but was reported to be developing a censored search engine that could get it back in to the country.
"Blocking virtually your entire population from being able to search the non-China web can only hold them back," The Economist's Simon Rabinovitch said. "Harm might not be immediately obvious but it will be there over time."
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