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Baidu, China’s version of Google, is“evil,” a growing number of users say


Quartz By Zheping Huang
16 hours ago


A Chinese college studentrecently died of cancer after receiving questionable treatment from a hospitalthat advertised on search engine Baidu, sparking a huge outcry online in China.


Wei Zexi, 21, acollege student from Xidian University in northwestern Shaanxi province, diedof synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, earlier last month. During thelatter period of his life, he received a treatment found in Baidu’s search results at aBeijing hospital. Later he realized the hospital’sclaims to cure cancer were dishonest.

魏则西,21岁,来自陕西省西安电子科技大学的一名学生。上个月早些时候死于罕见的滑膜肉瘤癌。  他生前曾通过百度搜索找到一家北京医院。后来他意识到该医院声称能治癌症是骗人的。

Wei vented his angerat Baidu online before his death, in a post that was widely circulated amongChina’s700 million internet users in recent days. To the question “What do you think is the greatest evil of human nature?” onChinese Q&A site Zhihu (link in Chinese), Wei answered Baidu, saying henever should have trusted medical ads on the search engine. “I had no idea Baidu wasso evil at the time,” he wrote.


Wei said he learnedof immune therapy from the Second Hospital of Beijing Armed Police, because itwas the first paid advertising result on a Baidu search for treatments. Thetherapy aims to use cells generated by patients’ own immune system to fight cancer.


A doctor with thehospital told Wei the treatment was developed by the US’s Stanford University,he wrote, and was 80 to 90% effective. After treatment, his health onlydeteriorated. He spent around 20,000 yuan ($3,115) for the therapy over severalmonths.


Later helearned the CIK celltherapy he received is only in clinical trials in the US and has a lowrecord of effectiveness—informationthat didn’t turn up high on Baidu’s search results.
On Apr. 12, Wei’s father wrote on Zhuhuthat Wei died that morning.

他后来得知CIK细胞治疗(注:CIK,cytokine induced killer cell)在美国是一种治愈率很低的临床试验疗法。但该信息在百度搜索中没有充分显示出来。4月12日,魏的父亲在知乎网写下,魏于凌晨去世。

The tragedy suddenlytook over China’sinternet this past weekend. So far Wei’s Zhihu post hasattracted more than 20,000 “agrees” and thousands of comments. “Doctors withoutconscience should die, Baidu without conscience should die, only you shouldn’t have died,” one internet user wrote. Anotherwrote “I only wish heaven doesn’t have Baidu.”


Search enginesincluding Google, Microsoft’s Bing, and Baidu sell ads that come up in search results fordifferent topics. Those ads, or “Paid Search,” as Baidu calls them, are typically put above organic search resultsbut are clearly delineated. Baidu’s critics say thesearch engine is accepting ads from unscrupulous companies without vettingtheir claims.


Searching “abortion” on Baidu leads to seven abortion clinic ads marked as “promotion” before any other information. One of them features a 980-yuan ($151) “painless abortion” package. (Screenshot from Baidu)


Baidu said thehospital in question is a licensed first-tier public hospital, but later thecompany said (link in Chinese) it has asked “related departments” to lookinto its credentials. The division responsible for Wei’streatment stopped operating today (May 2,) localmedia reported (link in Chinese). Calls made by Quartz to the hospital went unanswered.


It’s not the first time theChinese search giant, which trades on the Nasdaq and has a market cap of morethan $67 billion, has been accused of putting money ahead of Chinese citizens’ health.


Medicaladvertising makesup for 30% of Baidu’sad revenue, and a big part of that comes from Putian hospitals, owned bybusinessmen from the southeastern Fujian province, which are notorious forselling dodgy medical treatments of venereal diseases and reproductiveproblems.


In January, Baidu wasfound to be profiting by giving ill users biased information through its health chat rooms, known as “post bar.” As in that case, Wei’s death hassparked calls to boycott all Baidu-owned products from search engines to musicstreaming.