Student Death Sparks Investigation Into Baidu Search Engine

Baidu search engine death china wei zexi
Baidu paper cup is seen on a table at the firm's headquarters building in Beijing, December 17, 2014. The search engine, often referred to as the Chinese Google, is being investigated for its alleged advertising practises. GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images

Chinese authorities are investigating Internet giant Baidu following the death of a student who allegedly used its search engine to seek dubious medical treatments.

Wei Zexi, 21, died in April after undergoing a controversial cancer treatment that was advertised on Baidu. Chinese state media has since accused the company of putting profits ahead of the welfare of its users.

“With great power comes great responsibility,” state mouthpiece, The People’s Daily, said on Monday. “Profit considerations shall not be placed over social responsibility. Selling online forums and allowing companies who pay more to appear high on search result rankings can generate quick cash.

“Pursuing profits is not wrong, but putting profits over helpless patients’ lives is against any ethical standards.”

It is claimed that the treatment for synovial sarcoma—the rare form of cancer Wei was diagnosed with in 2014—was found through a Baidu search that was displayed despite adequate checks of the advertiser’s credentials not having taken place.

Before his death, Wei took to an online messaging board to publicly accuse Baidu of misleading advertising, saying that the effectiveness of the $31,000 treatment had been contested by medical experts. “Baidu, we did not know how much evil it could do,” Wei wrote in February.

An investigation into Wei’s death was launched by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) on Monday. Baidu’s share price fell 8 percent following news of the investigation.

Baidu, often referred to as China’s Google, said in a statement: “Our deepest condolences go out to Wei Zexi’s family. Baidu is a trusted company and we uphold extremely high standards to make our platform safe and trustworthy.”