“Baidu as a search engine is dead,” a Chinese key opinion leader proclaimed online in harsh criticism of the largest Chinese search service’s practice of directing a bunch of search results back to its own products, including Baijiahao, a content platform the company launched in 2016.
The Chinese KOL, Fang Kecheng, a former journalist and doctoral candidate in communications at the University of Pennsylvania, quipped that Baidu should be renamed “Baijiahao insite search.” He claimed that in one of his experiments, half of the search results returned on the first page linked to some sort of Baidu products, especially Baijiahao.
Baijiahao racks up profits from placing ads into the services, similar to the way Facebook or China’s ByteDance makes money from their news feed ads business. The business has helped to pump up Baidu’s revenue especially after the company had to cut off a large portion if not all of its medical ads in the wake of a public outcry over the death of a Chinese college student who died after receiving treatment from a hospital came up as paid results on Baidu.
Fang called the practice of directing search results to its own products a drink-poison-to-quench-thirst business strategy.
Baidu later responded that Baijiahao links only accounted for less than 10 percent of all search results provided by Baidu.
However, this response obviously did not persuade Fang, as he kicked back by saying that the percentage was meaningless and suggested Baidu to show the ratio of Baijiahao content versus search results on the first page of search results.
Fang went on to claim that if Baidu could not fulfil a search engine’s goal of providing useful and unbiased information, then it is not a search engine any more.
He added that even as a commercial product, a search engine needs to shoulder its responsibility as it decides what information people could get.
In the wake of the heated online quarrel between Fang and Baidu, Citi analyst Alicia Yap opened a “30-Day Negative Catalyst Watch” on it and cut her price target for the shares to $205 from $262 citing “higher spending, a slowing macro outlook and likely advertising budget cut by advertisers”.
Currently in China, Baidu still leads in the search engine sector with a market share of 70.33%.
Google has been inaccessible to Chinese mainland residents after it voluntarily exited the market in 2010. Its re-entry plan has been materially stalled due to media exposure, internal and external protest, and Congress questioning.
Editor: Ben Jiang