Baidu Hopes Transparency Cleans up Results
July 28, 2016
One of the worries about using commercial search engines is that search results are polluted with paid links. In the United States, paid results are differentiated from organic results with a little banner or font change. It is not so within China and Seeking Alpha shares an interesting story about a Chinese search engine, “Baidu Cleans Up Search Site, Eyes Value.” Baidu recently did a major overhaul of its search engine, which was due a long, long time ago. Baidu was more interested in generating profits than providing its users a decent service. Baidu neglected to inform its users that paid links appeared alongside organic results, but now they have been separated out like paid links in the US.
Results are cleaner, but it did not come in time to help one user:
“For anyone who has missed this headline-grabbing story, the crisis erupted after 21-year-old cancer patient Wei Zexi used Baidu to find a hospital to treat his disease. He trusted the hospital he chose partly because it appeared high in Baidu’s results. But he was unaware the hospital got that ranking because it paid the most in an online auctioning system that has helped to make Baidu hugely profitable. Wei later died after receiving an ineffective experimental treatment, though not before complaining loudly about how he was misled.”
The resulting PR nightmare forced Baidu to clean up its digital act. This example outlines one of the many differences between US and Chinese business ethics. On average the US probably has more educated consumers than China, who will call out companies when they notice ethical violations. While it is true US companies are willing to compromise ethics for a buck, at least once they are caught they cannot avoid the windfall. China on the other hand, does what it wants when it wants.