China Issues New Internet Search Rules After Baidu Probe

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Government regulators Investigated Baidu’s medical advertising practices. ENLARGE
Government regulators Investigated Baidu’s medical advertising practices. Photo: Reuters

BEIJING—China’s internet regulator has issued new rules for online search and advertising, about six weeks after it opened an investigation of Chinese search giant Baidu Inc.’s practices.

On Saturday, the Cyberspace Administration of China announced that search companies must provide “objective, fair and authoritative results”, which shouldn’t harm the rights and interests of the nation, the public and other legal organizations.

The rule also urges service providers to identify and label paid ads clearly, distinguishing them from regular search results, as well as limiting the number of paid ads on each page.

An unnamed CAC official said the new rules came in response to internet users’ longtime complaints about the ambiguity between paid ads and “natural search results,” according to a Q&A posted on the regulator’s website.

“Some search results include illegal contents like rumors, obscenity, violence, homicide and terror; some search results lack objectivity and fairness, which violates the corporate moral standards, misleads and affects public judgment,” the official said.

“Those problems destruct internet ecology, disturb the communication orders of internet information and harm public interests,” the official added.

The regulator also demanded timely reports and cache information from service providers whenever they find “illegal” contents from search results, such as content that is threatening national security or is related to terrorism.

The new rules come on the heels of an investigation opened by the government into Baidu’s medical advertising practices, after the death of Wei Zexi, a college student with cancer who had taken a therapy found through an online advertisement on Baidu.

Mr. Wei’s death had sparked widespread criticism from state media and internet users, who complained about the murky online environment for health information in a country where one search company dominates. A large number of Chinese prefer to turn to fellow patients in online forums for medical advice, which has made Baidu the main go-to site for medical information.

The regulator had given Baidu a deadline of May 31 to comply with changes, which included clearly identifying promotions and limiting ad results to only 30% of each search-results page. It also had said the amount of money an advertiser has paid to the search engine shouldn’t factor into search results. Baidu told the regulator it had implemented those changes before the deadline.

In a statement in response to the new CAC regulations, Baidu said it “will comply fully with relevant laws and regulations as outlined by the CAC.” It added that it has worked closely with government agencies and users to provide objective and authoritative results.

On Sunday, Baidu President Zhang Yaqin said on a World Economic Forum panel in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin that following Baidu’s crisis in the last six months, the company is working on rebuilding trust. Baidu will make search results more reliable, and the company recognizes it bears more responsibility now that it is a large company, he said.



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