Baidu employees are believed to have removed user comments for cash
Three employees of Baidu, China’s most popular search engine, have been arrested under suspicion of taking bribes.
It is alleged that the employees accepted money in exchange for removing negative feedback left on Baidu’s forum service. The company had already fired four people for misconduct before three of them were arrested.
The importance of good feedback
Baidu’s business model is similar to Google’s. Alongside search, it offers 56 other services including navigation, forum and blog hosting, news aggregation, translation and video hosting. In December 2007, Baidu became the first Chinese company to be included in the NASDAQ-100 index.
“Post-deleting” activity has become popular in China, as a way for businesses to deal with negative reviews posted online. In a country where millions of webpages go missing every year as a result of government censorship, users are unlikely to be surprised when they find their content deleted.
From a typical dealer, it costs around 1,000 yuan (£102) to delete an article from forums, 2,000 yuan to remove one from a blog and 3,000 yuan to delete a piece of news posted on a news portal.
“We can offer a professional long-term maintenance service for a company, 150,000 yuan (£15,233) to 200,000 yuan (£20,311) a year. If you choose this service, we will keep an eye on your company around the clock and delete any negative messages,” a member of staff from post-deleting provider Beijing Haotian Lianmeng told Chinese news portal Global Times.
One Baidu employee who ran such a “professional post-deleting” service was arrested on 16 July under suspicion of bribing non-government staff. Two more were arrested on 20 and 23 July.
“Baidu has fired the four. If we discover such cases, we will severely punish staff. Baidu will close the loopholes by strengthening management to maintain order in our communication platform,” Li Guoxun, a Baidu PR officer, told Global Times.
According to Li, Baidu had already faced a similar problem in the past. However, this is the first time law enforcement agencies have been involved due to the amount of money that changed hands. Baidu’s spokeswoman Betty Tian told the BBC the sums involved amounted to “tens of thousands of yuan”.
“Baidu has continuously provided professional ethics education to staff members who are given authority to delete online posts,” added Tian.
Cybercrime is a growing problem in the most populous country in the world. Between March and June, Chinese authorities had arrested over 10,000 people suspected of Internet-related crimes, according to the official statistics from the Ministry of Public Security.
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