Two years after student death, search ranking and ad placement is still a problem for Baidu

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Image credit: Baidu

Chinese search engine Baidu has sparked public outcry again after the Chinese state-owned media network CCTV revealed another user complaint regarding the company’s unethical practice in search ranking and advertisement placement for hospitals, local media is reporting.

CCTV aired a program on September 7, in which a Ms. Zhou from Ningbo, Zhejiang Province shared her disturbing experience in searching for a hospital on Baidu. Zhou wanted to seek treatment for her nose disease in an affiliated hospital of the reputable Shanghai Fudan University.

Although she searched the exact keywords of “eye, otolaryngology hospital affiliated to Shanghai Fudan University”, Baidu shows her Shanghai Fuda Hospital, which was actually a misleading ad given that “Fuda” is common shortening for Fudan University in Chinese.

The doctor told Zhou that she had hypertrophic turbinates and needed an operation. The operation, medical treatment, medical expenses and so on have cost her tens of thousands of yuan. By the time she visited the real Fudan University hospital, Zhou found that she could be cured with nose drops and medications which cost her only around RMB 200.

In response to the scandal, Baidu released an apology, saying that it’s making an effort to remedy these problems. According to the company, it has launched a project to protect the brands of public hospitals with more than 57,639 keywords being protected from ad search results. Baidu also launched a separate named “Search Craft” where the company promised ad-free search results.

It’s not the first time Baidu has faced harsh public criticism from the national TV network. As one of the most powerful information gateways in China, Baidu has long received public accusations of “acting evil” in putting profits ahead of citizens’ health. The current scandal comes two years after the death of Wei Zexi, a computer science major who died of synovial sarcoma after being treated at an unvetted hospital recommended by Baidu.