The Chinese search engine and web services provider, Baidu is currently under investigation from several Chinese bodies, after a 21-year-old male died after using an experimental treatment made prominent in search results. According to the Chinese government’s press agency Xinhua, the student Wei Zexi died with synovial sarcoma, a form of cancer which affects the soft tissue, after being diagnosed in 2014.
The man and his family said he discovered a radical and unorthodox treatment which was offered by the Second Hospital of the Beijing Armed Police Corps, after it was listed at the top of search results on Baidu. The search engine has been previously criticized for giving the top position to sites who purchased the listing, rather than based on the site’s credibility.
Several Chinese authorities have begun to look into the matter, including the Cyberspace Administration of China, the State Administration of Industry and Commerce, and the National Health and Family Planning Commission. A formal review of the hospital’s actions have also begun.
The popular search engine charges for higher placements on its results, with each advertised result marked by a small ‘promote’ sign. However, Baidu has rejected claims that they elevate hospital search results depending on how much they paid, and said the hospital in question was authorized by the Beijing government.
According to the BBC, the organization has said they are sorry for Mr. Zexi’s death and have begun an internal enquiry of the situation. “Baidu strives to provide a safe and trustworthy search experience for our users, and has launched an immediate investigation of the matter.”
While it remains the biggest search engine in China, with control of 70 percent of the market and over 660 million users of the mobile search function every month, Baidu’s value has fallen since the beginning of the investigation. The value of their shares on the NASDAQ stock market have decreased by 7.92 percent or over five billion dollars since Tuesday.
Zexi’s death has sparked public debate as well, with ‘Wei Zexi Baidu Advertising Incident’ currently trending on microblogging website Sina Weibo and many users demanding Baidu be punished.