Microsoft on Friday blamed “unexpected human error” for its Bing search engine’s failure to display images for “tank man” in the United States and elsewhere, after users expressed concern about possible censorship around the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Users including the United Kingdom, Germany, and Singapore reported on Friday that when they searched, Bing returned the message “No tank man results.”
David Green, director of civil liberties at the non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that content review cannot be perfect and “serious mistakes will always be made.”
But he said it may be more sinister: “The worst case is that this is a purposeful suppression at the request of a powerful country.”
A few hours after Microsoft admitted the problem, the “tank man” search only returned pictures of tanks from other parts of the world.
“Tank Man” is often used to describe an unidentified person who stood in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square in China during a democratic demonstration in June 1989.
Microsoft stated that the problem was “due to accidental human error, and we are actively working to resolve this problem.”
Smaller search engines, such as DuckDuckGo, have licensed results from Microsoft facing similar problems with “tank man” searches, and said they hope to fix it soon.
When conducting a “tank man” search on Friday, rival Google showed many results for this famous image.
According to a former employee, a large portion of Microsoft employees working at Bing are in China, including some employees who work in image recognition software.
As we all know, China requires search engines operating within its jurisdiction to review the results, but these restrictions rarely apply elsewhere.
© Thomson Reuters 2021