Internet giant Baidu has been under attack by Chinese internet users for medical ads. Former Baidu communication director Kaiser Kuo, defends his former company and says criticism has been unfair. Main Baidu problem: failing sales, he tells TechNode.
China’s internet exploded with outrage over the company’s perceived lack of supervision over sales of medical ads. Chinese state media joined the chorus, while authorities formed a task force to investigate the case bringing in Baidu’s CEO Robin Li for a talk.
“In this case, to me, it was obvious that the anger that was directed at Baidu was out of proportion with Baidu’s crime,” said Baidu’s former communications officer Kaiser Kuo during a recent episode of the China Tech Talk podcast.
Kuo, who spent six years with the company, believes that Baidu was scapegoated by authorities to avoid lashing out on China’s scandal-ridden health care system. The incident, however, can also be viewed as a tragic culmination of a series of controversies related to medical and health care ads which used to comprise 20 to 30 percent of the company’s search revenue.
Baidu’s health troubles started in 2010 when it was accused of promoting counterfeit drugsthrough its search engine. Four years later, the company was sued by a man who used the search engine to seek out a cure for his homosexuality but ended up traumatized by an electroshock therapy in a conversion clinic. The company was acquitted but was warned against advertising dubious medical practices…
It is not surprising then that in 2010 when Google announced its departure from China because of government mandated information filtering, doubts rose over Baidu’s involvement. At that point, for many Chinese internet users, Google’s “Don’t be evil” slogan and their decision to withdraw stood in contrast to Baidu’s pragmatism–and so Baidu became “evil.”
“There is a kind of psychological habit that we have that when you have a narrative that casts one character as an obvious protagonist of the story,” said Kuo. “The narrative wasn’t exactly fair. There was never any evidence and it just wasn’t true that Baidu had something to do at all with Google’s decision to decamp from China. They were certainly the beneficiary of it but there was nothing sinister going on.”
However, Baidu’s questionable business practices, such as enabling piracy, copyright infringement, plagiarizing Wikipedia, and cheating on AI tests have not helped its case. Neither has the incident in which Baidu employees accepted bribes for deleting negative comments behind the company’s back, nor the lawsuit over censorship by US-based pro-democracy activists.
For Kuo, Baidu is a company of great technology, but one in which sales are often done ineptly. PR has also been the company’s weak point. Baidu’s poor response over the death of young Wei Zixi coupled with failed opportunities to capitalize on several major tech trends has left experts wondering about its future. After the incident, Baidu was ordered to revise its medical ads policy at a time when web search ad revenues have already been shrinking.
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