The Baidu disconnect

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, May 2, 2016
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Just days after Baidu chief executive Robin Li said the company had "an excellent start to 2016," its public image has taken a huge battering.

The online community is questioning Baidu's ethics after certain aspects of its business model seem to value monetary gain over the welfare of its users.

Back in January, the Chinese-language online community was outraged when it was revealed that the multi-billion dollar company had sold the management rights to a hemophilia forum to dubious for-profit "medics." These "health practitioners" flooded the forum with fake adverts, and deleted any comments that called them out on their behavior.

Baidu, which prides itself on "connecting users with the information they want and need," sells highlighted or higher ranked ad positions for keyword searches. This is a common model used by many search engines, however, and herein is the problem, there seems to be little consideration of the credentials of the paying advertisers.

Thus, the search engine routinely returns results that boast cures and treatments to almost all kinds of illnesses.

This "pay to play" model reared its ugly head again just days after Li's comments.

Wei Zexi, a former computer science major at Xidian University in northwest China's Shaanxi Province, used Baidu to find a treatment for a rare form of cancer that he had been diagnosed with in 2014. The treatment cost the Wei family hundreds of thousands of yuan. It was unsuccessful. Wei died on April 12.

There has yet to be an administrative or legal case filed against Baidu, but netizens are, once again, infuriated with its continued complicity in misinforming users on medical matters.

As Chinese netizens -- the ultimate source of Baidu's revenue -- roar with anger, the response from the Internet giant, as in January' s hemophilia scandal, has been -- forgive our bluntness -- dumb.

It is widely believed that those involved in the search business should not rank its returned results just upon who pays more or less.

Mr. Li can talk all he wants about how his company connects users with information, but from where we are standing, there seems to be a massive and growing disconnect between Baidu and its corporate social responsibility.


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