Research conducted earlier this year examined the extent of Internet filtering in Arab countries made using Bing search engine of Microsoft for terms with a sexual orientation.
Bing search engine is active in 41 languages and it offers a Web filtering system based on keywords entered into the system in advance, according to different countries. In this way, Bing avoids a free Internet usage among countries in the Middle East while performing search using terms with a sexual orientation – in English and Arabic.
The study was conducted between 2 and 15 January 2010, by inspecting 100 keywords in Arabic and 60 English. The list contains sexual terms as well as those which do not have sexual meaning (terror, violence, politics, women's rights and religion). The search was made using Bing search engine in four countries, which operates different levels of Web filtering: United Arab Emirates, Syria, Algeria and Jordan.
The results showed that Bing search engine filter terms in Arabic and English through which users can reach sexual and LGBT content. The experiment revealed that Bing search engine is filtering also some of these keywords in English when searching for images.
While performing a search using one of these keywords, the user will be noticed (in Arabic or English) that the search result may include adult content, determined by the search engine settings depending on region or country.
Bing search engine does not allow users in the Middle East to control the filtering or to turn it off. On the other hand, the study reveals that if user in the Middle East choose and use the search engine's version that matches to one of the western countries, it will not filter the list in question.
Internet filtering performed by Bing search engine is not complete; it only deals with sexual content and only in the local versions in the Middle East of the search engine. However, even so, this activity of Microsoft is a further evidence of regional governments’ efforts to block websites, primarily for reasons of maintaining the values of morality, culture and religion of the local societies.
Unfortunately, this study highlights the role of organizations such as Microsoft in the issue of Internet filtering and the efforts of Middle Eastern governments to constrict free Internet in the Middle East.