The Chinese internet search engine, Baidu Inc (ADR) (NASDAQ:BIDU), is embroiled in a controversy after it emerged that it has been profiteering from its Post Bars, special online discussion forums in which individuals share a whole range of information with like-minded friends.
Reports have emerged on how the company has been selling specialized slots to business people. The business people have then been able to access and control the discussions that take place on the Post Bars under the disguise of being administrators.
The incident that sparked widespread protest against the company involved a special Task Bar that was dedicated to patients suffering from hemophilia. It emerged that the genuine administrators of the group, also known as “bar owners” had been replaced under unclear circumstances.
It later emerged that Baidu had actually sold the Task Bar to individuals who ran medical services. The individuals then engaged in promoting their own services while ensuring that any criticism leveled against their practice was deleted from the forum.
This action incensed the entire public. On the Chinese blogosphere, calls for a massive boycott of Baidu have been growing. Some bloggers have associated the incident with untamed greed and loudly condemned the leadership of the company for what they say is playing with people’s lives. Others have even questioned the ethical values of the company, considering that what happened exposed the danger that the users of the forum were exposed to.
But in an attempt to control the damage, Baidu said that it had immediately kicked out the rogue administrator of the group and replaced him with a fellow from the NGO world. The company also said that it had decided to stop using its Post Bars for commercial interests, promising to ensure that all such Post Bars are run by individuals from the NGO sector.
The current situation puts Baidu in a difficult position. The popularity of the search engine can be ascribed to the departure of Google from the Chinese market after it had an altercation with the State censoring system. Mimicking Google, Baidu has managed to net millions of Chinese internet users into its system as the only viable option to Google. But now that the company has found itself on the receiving end of public anger, it faces serious issues.
Many internet users in China have been calling for the return of Google to the country. Others have been considering using other alternatives to Baidu. One option that has emerged is Gaode Map, which is owned by Alibaba. Another one is, of course, the Microsoft-owned Bing. However, going by public sentiments, Google is still being missed in China.