Chinese Internet search leader Baidu.com has removed paid search listings for medical and pharmaceutical customers that do not hold proper licenses for their products or services after a state-owned TV news program condemned the practice.
"Baidu removed paid search listings of certain customers, particularly medical and pharmaceutical customers without licenses on file with Baidu," the company said in a statement late Tuesday. "Baidu will allow these customers to resume access to Baidu's P4P [pay-for-performance] paid search platform once their relevant licenses are provided to and reviewed by Baidu."
The controversy further taints Baidu's Internet search business, coming just months after accusations the company managed search results on behalf of the milk company, Sanlu, at the heart of a melamine poisoning scandal that had seen thousands of children admitted to Chinese hospitals.
The Sanlu accusations were never confirmed and Baidu flatly denied them.
The new controversy around Baidu's P4P search listings, which allows companies to pay to achieve the top spots in search listings, could hurt more than just the company's reputation. It may also hurt the company's finances.
Medical-related P4P search customers account for 10 percent to 15 percent of total revenues, Baidu said.
Baidu released the P4P statement after being targeted by an expose on China Central Television (CCTV), the largest state-owned network in China.
A CCTV news program reported that Internet search results for some popular medical terms on Baidu include Web sites of medical companies that do no hold proper licenses.
The report said the pay-for-performance listings also excluded some licensed medical company Web sites that did not buy keywords.
On Monday, Baidu issued a public statement in China "acknowledging that there could be cases where certain companies take advantage of Baidu's paid search platform for questionable purposes."
But the company denied excluding the Web sites of any customers because they did not pay for keywords and said it does not tolerate such practices.