To Tighten Online Speech Censorship, WeChat Bans Microsoft’s Chinese Chatbot

Harin - Jul 08, 2019


To Tighten Online Speech Censorship, WeChat Bans Microsoft’s Chinese Chatbot

Tencent has decided to ban Xiaobing, Microsoft's Chinese chatbot for infringing a regulation targeting public social media accounts.

There’s nothing strange when internet users using Chinese social media are suspended or banned permanently for touching politically sensitive topics. However, many found it surprising that a chatbot was banned.

Xiaobing, the Chinese chatbot from Microsoft, isn’t a virtual assistant like Siri or Alexa. Rather, it is a “virtual companion” that can converse with users.

But now, Tencent has decided to ban the chatbot for the third time. According to a message of Tencent on the WeChat page of Xiaobing, the chatbot had infringed a regulation targeting public social media accounts. However, what exactly it did to be considered as a violation was not stated.

Microsoft-Xiaobing-Chatbot
Xiaobing, the chatbot from Microsoft.

In 2014 Tencent removed Xiaobing from WeChat for privacy concerns. In 2017, the chatbot was taken down from QQ for politically sensitive speech. It isn’t clear whether Xiaobing’s latest ban is permanent or temporary.

After the ban, functions on Xiaobing’s WeChat account are no longer accessible. Both Microsoft and Tencent have yet to comment on this matter.

People may not miss the Microsoft chatbot though, as it is not really popular in China. Xiaobing isn’t widely deployed on smart speakers like Alexa of Amazon since not many Chinese consumers use this device. For domestic smart speaker makers, they have their own voice assistants.

However, performing tasks is not the strength of Xiaobing. People who use Xiaobing mostly because of social reasons. For some, the bot is known for its sassy replies with sticker and memes sometimes as well as its ability to compose songs and write poems.

That’s why there are still some users who feel sad about their favorite chatbot’s disappearance.

On user on Weibo wrote:

Quote

People are guessing the reason for Xiaobing’s ban is related to politics as China is tightening online speech censorship.

But the political speech might not be the only cause as back in 2014, Xiaoping was removed from WeChat just a few days after its release for potentially leaking chat history and posing as a threat users’ privacy. Screenshots showing “lewd language” from the bot in conversations with users were also released by the company.

Microsoft hasn’t really been known for its chatbots. Back in 2016, Microsoft introduced a Twitter chatbot named Tay, hoping that through its interaction with users, it could learn something. However, less than a day after its debut, Tay started making racist comments, leading to it being taken down.

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