Chinese Search Engine Scandal Sparks Questions

By shanesnow
Published on December 2, 2008

Baidu, the most widely used search engine in China, recently promised to fire staff and overhaul its operations after a scandal regarding medical listings occurred last month, according to The Guardian. Apparently, companies without medical licenses were advertising on the search engine, tricking customers into paying high rates for non-legitimate medical care. Baidu faced some severe repercussions because of this scandal.

Search Engine Land questioned why Baidu is taking so much heat for this. Google probably doesn’t validate the medical licenses of doctors who advertise on its search network. Should they be responsible if some advertisers forge their credentials?

A couple thoughts that we thought we’d throw into the mix:

1. If a television station were to air an ad for a fraudulent medical practice, could the station be sued in addition to the advertiser? Most likely, yes. Looking at court precedence, it is very likely that this could occur. But should this be so? Is the channel liable for the 3rd party messages it broadcasts? I think there will be mixed opinions on this, but I imagine that courts will rule “yes” 3 out of 4 times. Why wouldn’t this concept cross over into another medium?

2. In light of these kinds of events, will search engines start doing more due diligence on advertisers within certain verticals? Right now, almost anyone can advertise, posing as anyone. Do you think the big search engines will start to crack down on this? And how would they?

A very useful method of gauging interest when researching a business or website idea is through running test ads on pay per click networks, such as Google Adwords. Because of the ease of entry for advertisers on these types of ad platforms, it is easy to set up a test campaign for a product or industry you are looking into, and then simply sending the visitors to an existing website – a competitor even. Yes, you are paying for clicks for someone else, but you are able to gather data that you can use to help decide whether you should enter a particular marketplace.

This is a fast, relatively cheap way to research. However, if standards for validating your business, identity, and credentials tighten in the future, it may be less possible to perform such tests in the future. Then again, irresponsible advertisers can cause a lot of trouble doing these test campaigns and can even damage a competitor’s brand. Maybe it would be good to have some more regulation? What do you all think?

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