China's dominant search engine Baidu is being investigated by government regulators following the death of a young man with cancer who had taken a therapy found through an online advertisement.
The 21-year-old computer science student named Wei Zexi died last month of a rare form of cancer. According to the state media, Wei was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma in 2014.
He was undergoing treatment at a Beijing hospital which was advertised on the search engine. His family spent 200,000 yuan ($31,000) for this therapy. However, Wei died after the unsuccessful treatment and the social media ws flooded with reports that the treatment was much less effective than what the hospital had claimed in its advertisement.
Wei's parents said that when they were searching for cancer treatments, they found an immunotherapy treatment offered by the Beijing Armed Police Corps No. 2 Hospital, which was advertised as "the world's most advanced".
Over the weekend, Chinese social media gave a widespread exposure to the story of Wei and the users criticized the quality of medical ads appearing in Baidu searches.
Following this, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) launched an investigation alongside other government agencies such as the State Administration of Industry and Commerce, and the National Health and Family Planning Commission.
This year this is the second time that Baidu is being criticized because of its advertisements and responsibility to its users regarding medical information. Earlier, there was controversy over unassured medical practices being promoted in paid search results. Analysts have estimated that around one quarter of Baidu's revenues come from medical and health-care advertisers.
The company said in its Weibo account that they have already filed a request for the hospital to be investigated.
"We deeply regret the death of Wei Zexi and our condolences go out to his family. Baidu strives to provide a safe and trustworthy search experience for our users, and have launched an immediate investigation of the matter," Baidu said, according to BBC.
The Wall Street Journal cited state-run news agency Xinhua saying: "Making money by allowing companies to pay for better search placement is to put a good tool in the hands of interest-seekers with bad intentions."
Baidu said the company doesn't work with any unqualified private hospitals. It has a separate team to ensure its medical advertisements comply with Chinese laws.