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Student’s Death Prompts Investigation Into Baidu’s Medical Ads
Chinese search engine company Baidu Inc. is being investigated by the country’s internet regulatory body after the death of a 21-year-old college student triggered outrage online over poorly-vetted medical ads on Baidu’s platform.
The NASDAQ-listed company saw their stock prices plummet by over seven percent after the Cyberspace Administration of China announced they are assembling a team to probe the company’s practices.
Wei Zexi, a Shaanxi-based computer science major, died on April 12th after the treatment he was receiving for a rare soft tissue cancer failed. Prior to his death Mr. Wei had lashed out at Baidu for promoting the hospital he used among top search results without vetting the information, calling the company “evil”.
According to his post on Zhihu, a Chinese equivalent of Quora (link in Chinese), Mr. Wei and his family chose the Second Hospital of the Beijing Armed Police Corps because it was promoted highly in Baidu’s search results. Their doctor of choice had appeared on state media broadcaster CCTV several times, he said.
Mr. Wei claims the doctor offered him a treatment endorsed by Stanford with an 80-90% effectiveness rate. The family paid more than 200,000 RMB ($30,889 USD) for the treatment over several months which he says they later discovered had been discontinued in the U.S. due to low rates of effectiveness.
The search giant took to Weibo on Monday afternoon to express condolences to the family and assure their followers that they are looking into the internal management issues at the hospital.
“We have actively submitted a notice to the [hospital] headquarters responsible. We hope the relevant departments prioritize the investigation to confirm any misconduct at the Second Hospital of the Beijing Armed Police Corps,” said the company. “We fully support the family of Zexi through legal channels.”
This isn’t the first time that Baidu has come under fire for their medical advertisements. In January this year it was revealed that Baidu had sold the management rights to a popular online message board on hemophilia to a private hospital in Shaanxi province. In March 2015 the company’s stock dropped 4 percent when a private hospital union, representing 80 percent of the country’s private hospitals, boycotted Baidu over misleading medical information.