The Chinese government has censured search giant Baidu and more than 80 other companies for providing it with false or misleading information about their business activities.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) found in an investigation that 85 of the 1,374 enterprises scrutinized reported erroneous information in documents including their corporate annual findings. The investigation also included checks to see whether the companies followed industry-related rules.
Rule breakers will be included in a government database of companies that have conducted illegal activities, which may limit their access to new business licenses, the MIIT said in a statement.
Baidu refused to comment on the investigation.
This is not the first time the company has been criticized by the government. Last month, Baidu, together with 75 other companies and the country’s three mobile operators, was fined by the MIIT for irregular operations and distorting markets in the telecommunications sector. No other information was provided.
The company has also been punished for serving ads to its search engine users for unlicensed medical services. In 2017, the Shanghai Industry and Commerce Bureau (SICB) fined Baidu RMB 28,000 (around $4,100) for false or illegal advertising.
In 2016, it was blamed for the death of 21-year-old college student Wei Zexi, who died of cancer due to misleading treatment information he had found through ads he was served in Baidu search results.
In November, a Chinese professor from Shanghai’s Fudan University complained that the company gave priority to advertising over organic search results. He claimed that the ads resulted in him paying higher fees for a Turkish visa, which he obtained through a third-party agent believing it was the country’s official visa application center. Baidu later removed the ads.