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Baidu Scandal Brings Business Ethics to the Forefront

Chinese search engine Baidu is under scrutiny after the death of a 21-year-old cancer patient. Many netizens blame Baidu for offering advertised space to fraudulent doctors. At the core of the Baidu Scandal lies the question: to what extent is Baidu responsible for the health of Chinese netizens?

Manya Koetse

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China’s biggest search engine Baidu is under scrutiny after the death of a 21-year-old cancer patient who was allegedly given false hope for getting better because of Baidu’s paid search results. Many netizens blame Baidu for offering advertised space to fraudulent doctors. At the core of the online discussion lies the question: to what extent is Baidu responsible for the health of China’s netizens?

Wei Zexi (魏则西) was a 21-year old student suffering a rare form of cancer called synovial sarcoma. After several unsuccessful treatments, he turned to search engine Baidu. Through one of Baidu’s paid results, Wei found a treatment at the Beijing Armed Police Corps No. 2 Hospital (武警二院) he thought could help him. According to CRI News, his friends and family came up with the 200,000 RMB (31,000US$) for the treatment, that later turned out to be ineffective and highly contested. Wei Zexi has since passed away last month.

The Wei Zexi Incident

The matter became trending on Sina Weibo on May 2 under the hashtag of ‘The Wei Zexi Incident’ (#魏则西事件#), with thousands of netizens blaming Baidu for offering a platform to shady health care providers.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the treatment that was advertised on Baidu was promoted as “the world’s most advanced”.

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The family of Wei Zexi is heartbroken after the student’s death. Chinese media posted multiple pictures of the day of Wei Zexi’s funeral.

 
Before Wei Zexi died, he posted his story on China’s popular Q&A website Zhihu on February 26. In his post, he strongly criticized the hospital that treated him, and also condemned Baidu for providing them a platform. The post attracted many reactions in late February, and resurged now that news of Wei’s death became trending.

Chinese news site The Paper spoke to Wei’s mother, who told them that Wei had not posted his critique to make money, but for the sake of warning others not to rely on Baidu for medical information.

Paid Search

Baidu (百度, literally meaning: ‘hundred times’) is China’s equivalent to Google – which is blocked in mainland China. Although there are multiple search engine services in China, such as Sogou or 360, Baidu is the market leader. Similar to Google’s ‘Adwords’, Baidu makes big money by offering different kinds of advertising, including so-called Paid Search.

For Paid Search, advertisers can choose keywords that potential customers may use to search the products or services they offer. Their ads are then displayed at the top of the ‘related search’ result lists.

When searching for ‘the flu’ on Baidu, for example, search results will include an ad for Vicks and different links to medical clinics selling medicine or providing treatment. In Wei’s case, when he searched for his rare type of cancer, he got different sites promoting the treatment at the Beijing hospital. Only when one takes a closer look it says in small characters that it concerns a link that is ‘promoted’ (Paid Search).

zhihu

It is different for Google Adwords, that has stricter policies about the promotion of healthcare and medicine on Google services:

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Baidu’s social responsibility

This is the second time this year that Baidu is under scrutiny for its business ethics when it comes to advertising and medical information.

According to an online survey by Sina News, nearly half of China’s netizens (47.5%) think that Baidu should not allow medical care institutions to advertise on its search engine pages. 38.4% of the surveyees say that Baidu should inspect the quality of hospitals that appear in their search results. Only 2.8% of participants say that Baidu had no responsibility in the matter.

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Many Weibo netizens vent their frustrations about Baidu and hope for a return of Google to China: “If Google would come back to China, I would never use Baidu again,” one netizen says. Other commenters remark: “Compared to Baidu, I have more trust in Google,” and: “Let Google come back!”

There are also netizens who think it is unfair that Baidu gets all the blame for fraudulent hospitals. “Why is Baidu being targeted for something that our administration system should be responsible for?”

Drop in stocks

For Baidu, the scandal is not over yet; its CEO will be summoned by Chinese authorities for further investigation of Baidu’s business ethics. The Baidu scandal has also affected the company’s stocks, that dropped almost 8 per cent after the incident.

baidu drop

For many netizens, the ‘Wei Zexi Incident’ has gone beyond Baidu, and is now about the limitations of China’s internet in general. As one netizen says: “People used to say, ‘we don’t need Google – we’ve got Baidu, we don’t need Facebook because we have Weibo, we don’t need YouTube, we’ve got Youku – it’s ok, it’s not like we could die for using China’s own internet!’ But apparently, we can die for using it.”

– By Manya Koetse

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Featured image: by Weibo user Duanzi.

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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1 Comment

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    Rob

    May 4, 2016 at 1:24 am

    Baidu has issues; it is absolutely China-biased, and while the advert system may not be as strict, the same procedure would show up in the list of options and alternatives no matter what.

    What Wei is not doing is taking responsible for his own short-comings, and what should be at the fore here is the lack of effective researching and critical thinking skills taught to students. I had to institute researching and citation as a course for my freshmen because it did not exist and no one taught it until maybe their 4th year; this is certainly lacking in education.

    On top of this, many Chinese medical practices are questionable in general; there are doctors who promote C-sections even knowing that natural birth is preferred and has fewer complications because it is more profitable; other doctors are promoting a pharmacological solution to problems that do not need them because it is more profitable; doctors take bribes to arrange for treatments (a friend who severed his patellar ligament in Beijing had to pay 2000 RMB in gas cards to just to get into a hospital bed, even though he had insurance to cover all the expenses of the surgery and hospital stay). This to me is less an issue of Baidu and more an issue of a profit-driven, eminently corrupt, and generally ignorant medical system (and I say this as someone with a medical background who has had to use the system in Beijing both for myself and with friends).

    Wei was foolish; where was his due diligence? Yes, I get that he was dying and looking for solutions, but how may solutions did he look for? Did he check this procedure with other doctors at other hospitals? Or, like many of my students, did he simply jump on the first answer he found and followed it through to its natural result?

    If anything, this shows shortcomings in both medicine and education. Let’s stop pointing the finger at Baidu (it’s a shitty carpenter who blames his tools) and start pointing the finger where it belongs.

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China Digital

“Don’t Download This App!” – A Top 10 of Harmful Chinese Apps

This latest top 10 of harmful Chinese apps comes amid a heightened media focus on mobile users and cybersecurity in China.

Jialing Xie

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Thousands of apps are available to China’s mobile users, but not all of them are safe. These apps were marked as harmful by Chinese state media this week.

On September 17, Chinese state media outlet Xinhua News Agency issued a top 10 list of harmful mobile apps. The list, published via various social media outlets, raised discussions online about the security risks of seemingly innocent and fun apps.

The top 10 list comes during China’s 2019 “Clean the Web” (净网) campaign, an ongoing nationwide initiative organized by Chinese authorities to clean China’s digital environment by eradicating pornography and ‘illegal publications’ (扫黄打非).

As the People’s Republic of China will soon celebrate its 70th anniversary, the “Clean the Web 2019” campaign is now in full swing.

According to China’s National Computer Virus Emergency Response Center (NCVERC), the 10 listed ‘harmful apps’ posing hazards related to illegal gambling, stealing personal data, and having in-app downloads without users’ permission.

The full list of harmful mobile apps (and their bugged versions) is as follows.

 

The following first four apps are accused of personal data breaches:

 

1. ‘Happy Eliminating’《开心消消消》(Version 1.1)

The app on the left (开心消消消) is very similar to another popular gaming app called Happy Elements (开心消消乐).

This gaming app (image on the left), is highly similar to another popular gaming app known as Xiaoxiaole or Happy Elements (开心消消乐) (on the right).

 

2. ‘Digule’《嘀咕乐》(Version 1.0.1)

App screenshots from SnapPea.

This app promises to offer free comics and offline downloads. The app presents itself as being “non-ads interference” on the Android Market.

 

3. ‘Mifeng Yx’《蜜蜂优选》(Version 2.4.2)

This app helps users to get discount from popular online shopping sites such as Tmall and Taobao.

 

4. ‘Yangling Travel’《杨凌旅游》

This is a travel app that offers a wealth of information related to self-guided tours, travel tips, and hotel booking services.

 

The following apps have been labeled as ‘harmful’ for containing malware; their plug-ins and bundles drain users’ cellular data by downloading promotional ads and mobile apps in the background without permission:

 

5. ‘Zhijiao YXY’《职教云学院》(Version 1.0.2)

Zhijiao YXY is an online teaching platform for vocational education.

 

6. ‘Fashion Snap’《时尚快拍》(Version 3.6.72)

Fashion Snap is a beauty camera and photo editor tool.

 

7. ‘Watermark Images’《水印修图》(Version 4.0.91)

This is another photo editor tool featuring photo watermark add-ons.

 

These last three apps were linked with gambling activities by Chinese state media, or have security vulnerabilities making users susceptible to financial losses:

 

8. ‘Cute Puppy Go Home’《萌犬回家》(Version 2.0)

This is an app that matches pets with potential adopters.

 

9. Guess-emoji-challenge (Version 1.1)

As its name indicates, this is a mobile gaming app all about emoji guessing.

 

10. Warehouse Manager《仓库管家》(Version 1.0.1)

This is a warehouse management application.

(Note that we found two additional apps with the exact same name on AppAdvice, both are described as warehouse management applications – so for now, it is not clear which one of the three is the one referred to by Xinhua, and how it is associated with gambling.)

 

In addition to warning Chinese mobile users about the aforementioned versions of the 10 apps, Chinese media also spread the NCVERS’s advise in recommending netizens to use “real-time monitoring” anti-virus apps to help detect malware carried by illegal and harmful apps. 

In response to the report on the harmful apps, SinaTech News launched a poll on Weibo asking people what unwanted side functions mobile apps they dreaded the most.

At the time of writing, a majority (48.7%) of the 77,000 people participating in the poll indicated that “collecting user data without permission” is one of the things they loathe the most.

With China’s Cybersecurity Week kicking off earlier this month, there’s recently been an increased (social) media focus on cybersecurity in China.

This week, Chinese cybersecurity experts warned social media users not to post photos of themselves doing a V-sign gesture, since criminals could possibly abuse their fingerprint data.

The Chinese app Zao also sparked major privacy concerns in China earlier this month. The app, that was released on August 30, allows users to play with face-swapping and “deepfake” effects. There were soon concerns about the app’s questionable privacy policy, which stated it had “free, irrevocable, permanent, transferable, and relicenseable” rights to all user-generated content (also see The Guardian).

By now, the hashtag ‘Ten Lawbreaking & Harmful Apps” (#十款违法有害App#) has received over 130 million views on Weibo.

“This is a time for all of us to be concerned,” one Weibo blogger writes, with others agreeing: “I think all apps are collecting our data nowadays.”

But not all people seem to be so worried: “Weibo, WeChat, and Baidu – I’d say those apps are really harmful! They are harmful because they make me waste so many hours of my day.”

Read more about Chinese apps here.

By Jialing Xie

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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Cybersecurity Experts Warn: Flicking the V-Sign in Photos Could Give Away Your Fingerprint Data

V-sign selfie pictures could disclose personal information about your fingerprints, security experts warn.

Manya Koetse

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Our cameras are getting better, but that’s not always a good thing. Chinese internet security experts warn that peace sign photos could potentially be abused to collect fingerprint data.

The 2019 China Cybersecurity Week was held in Shanghai this week, and made it to the top trending topics on Sina Weibo today.

The topic attracting the attention of millions of Chinese web users is not China’s cybersecurity in general, but one that was discussed during the event, namely the potential privacy risks in making a V-sign on photos.

Chinese internet security experts at the conference warned that people are unaware that they could be giving away personal data information about their fingerprints when sharing photos of themselves making a peace sign.

If the side of the fingertips is facing the camera, and if there is not a lot of space in between the camera and the hand, it would potentially be possible to gather fingerprint data using photo enlargement tools and AI techniques.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez.

The deputy director of the Shanghai Information Security Industry Association stated that photos displaying a fingertop-facing V-sign taken within 1,5 meter of the camera could potentially disclose 100% of one’s fingerprint information, China Press reports.

A booth at the conference giving information about fingerprint information leaking through V-sign photos. Photo via China Press.

Criminals could reconstruct fingerprint patterns of other people and abuse them in various means – basically wherever fingerprint information is used to confirm people’s identities (e.g. biometric door locks or fingerprint payment scanning).

Besides not disclosing fingerprint information in photos posted online, experts also warn people not to leave fingerprint information at machines without confirming their purpose and legality.

Fingerprint scanning is used for a multitude of purposes in China. Foreigners who arrived in China since 2017 will also be familiar with the policy of collecting foreign passport holders’ fingerprints upon their arrival in the PRC.

On Chinese social media, the topic “Making a V-Sign Could Leak Your Fingerprint Data” is one of the biggest being discussed today. On Weibo, the hashtag has gathered 200 million views at time of writing (#拍照比剪刀手会泄露指纹信息#).

Some commenters advise people on social media to make peace signs with the nail side of the fingers facing the camera. (That gesture, however, is deemed an offensive gesture in some nations.)

The V-sign is often used as a rather non-symbolic or cute gesture across in East Asia.

Although in many Western countries, the symbol is mostly known as the victory sign (“V for Victory”) as used during World War II, it entered mainstream popular culture in Japan since the 1960s and spread to other Asian countries from there.

This Time article explains how the gesture appeared in Japanese manga in the late 1960s, one of them titled V is the Sign (Sain wa ‘V’ / サインはV).

Amid the concerned Weibo users, some are not worried: “It’s ok,” one commenter writes: “Using a Beauty App smoothes out my skin anyway.”

There are also many commenters who are confused about the news, wondering what advanced photo camera quality and AI technique might implicate for future privacy risks concerning face recognition data and iris scanning software (“Should we also close our eyes?”).

Others offer a different solution to the unexpected V-sign issue: “Just flip the middle finger instead.”

By Manya Koetse

The images used in the featured image on this page come from 追星娱乐说.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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