Microsoft confirms Bing is down in China

Microsoft’s Bing is down in China, according to users who took to social media beginning Wednesday afternoon to complain and express concerns.

The Seattle-based behemoth has confirmed that its search engine is currently inaccessible in China and is “engaged to determine next steps,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch Thursday morning.

Citing sources, the Financial Times reported (paywalled) on Thursday that China Unicom, a major state-owned telecommunication company, confirmed the government had ordered a block on Bing.

Public reaction

The situation appears to be a DNS (domain name system) corruption, one method for China to block websites through its intricate censoring system called the Great Firewall. When a user enters a domain name associated with a banned IP address, the Firewall will corrupt the connection to stop the page from loading.

Several users told TechCrunch they are still able to access Bing by directly visiting its IP address as of Thursday morning.

Other users writing on social media believe the block is a result of Bing’s server crash after a viral article (link in Chinese) attacking Baidu’s search quality directed traffic to its lesser-known American rival. Many referred to a Chinese report that says high traffic from Baidu had crashed Bing. The article, published by Jiemian, a news site under the state-owned Shanghai United Media Group, now returns a 404 error.

Microsoft has long tried to play by China’s rules by filtering out sensitive results from its search engine. It also modified Windows 10 for China back in 2017 through a collaboration with state-owned China Electronics Technology Group to eliminate Beijing’s fears of possible backdoors in the American software. Former Microsoft executive Steven Sinofsky lamented Bing’s blockage in China, writing on Twitter that Microsoft had “worked so hard to be successful there.”

Tight seal

Bing remained one of the few non-Chinese internet firms that still have their core products up and running in a country where Google and Facebook have long been unavailable. Another rare case is LinkedIn, which runs a filtered version of its social network for professionals and caught flack for bending to local censorship.

Bing also censors its search service for Chinese users, so it would be odd if its inaccessibility proves to be a case of government clampdown. That said, China appears to be further tightening control over the cyberspace. Case in point, LinkedIn recently started to run strict identity checks on its China-based users.

Baidu remains the biggest search engine in China with smaller rival Sogou coming in second. Bing, which some users find is a more pleasant alternative to local options that are usually flooded with ads, is active on 320,000 unique devices monthly, according to third-party research firm iResearch. That’s dwarfed by Baidu’s 466 million and Sogou’s 43 million.

Google told the U.S. Congress in December it had no immediate plans to relaunch its search engine in China but felt “reaching out and giving users more information has a very positive impact.” The Mountain View-based firm shut down its search engine in mainland China back in 2010 under pressure over censorship but also cited cyber attacks as a factor in its decision to leave.

Cloudflare gets into registrar business with wholesale domains and free privacy

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Enlarge / It’s not free, but it’s as close as you can get with TLDs and ICANN taking a cut. (credit: Cloudflare)

encrypted DNS service to evade surveillance of domain address queries). Now, the company has announced a barrage of new services to celebrate its eighth “birthday”—and one of them is an at-cost domain registrar.

While Cloudflare had already been handling domain registration through the company’s Enterprise Registrar service, that service was intended for some of Cloudflare’s high-end customers who wanted extra levels of security for their domain names. The new domain registrar business—called Cloudflare Registrar—will eventually be open to anyone, and it will charge exactly what it costs for Cloudflare to register a domain. As Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince wrote in a blog post yesterday, “We promise to never charge you anything more than the wholesale price each TLD charges.” That includes the small fee assessed by ICANN for each registration.

Prince said that he was motivated to take the company into the registrar business because of Cloudflare’s own experience with registrars and by the perception that many registrars are in the business mostly to up-sell things that require no additional effort. “All the registrar does is record you as the owner of a particular domain,” Prince said. “That just involves sending some commands to an API. In other words, domain registrars are charging you for being a middle-man and delivering essentially no value to justify their markup.” Charging overhead for that sort of service, Prince said, “seemed as nutty to us as certificate authorities charging to run a bit of math.” (Cloudflare also provides free SSL certificates.)

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