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That is, if a user physically located in an Arab country chooses to use an uncensored version of Bing tailored to another country (e.g., USA or UK), he/she will not experience any keyword filtering even if he/she uses a keywords filtered by Bing for “Arabian countries.” Additionally, in the case of Arabic keywords, users can sidestep the search engine censorship regime by adding another non-filtered Arabic keyword to the filtered one.Microsoft’s declared aim from this type of censorship is to filter out “results that might return adult content.” However, filtering at the keyword level results in overblocking, as banning the use of certain keywords to search for Web sites, not just images, prevents users from accessing—based on Microsoft’s definition of objectionable content—legitimate content such as sex education and encyclopedic information about homosexuality.
- We found no evidence of filtering of keywords in Arabic or English that could return results in other content categories.
It is difficult to assess the impact of Bing’s filtering policy on access to information and freedom of speech in Arabic-speaking countries.
The fact that users can easily switch to another search engine that does not filter its results (e.g., Google) or switch to a different version of Bing (e.g., a U. or European version), suggests that the impact may be slight if one assumes that users are making a conscious choice to restrict their search results with the help and guidance of Bing to filter out offensive material.
On the other hand, default settings have a profound impact on user decisions; many users will be unaware of the options or be motivated to try alternative searches.
As other search engines have done, Bing could offer users the ability to choose their own level of filtering in a way that is transparent and easy to implement.