China’s leading search engine Baidu is under investigation for the late-night promotion of illegal online gambling websites.

Beijing News reported on July 18 that gambling websites were “hijacking” corporate advertising links on Baidu. Users who clicked on the links would be redirected to an unauthorized gambling website, rather than the company’s website whose name appeared in the advertisement.

According to the report, the unauthorized gambling websites registered corporate accounts on Baidu via third-party advertising agencies.

According to the Beijing News investigation, the links generally took users to the gambling websites between 11 pm to 9 am. Outside that time, the links would disappear or go back to normal-taking users to the company’s website the advertisement claimed to be from.

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) has since ordered an investigation into Baidu’s promotion of gambling websites. The person in charge claimed the search engines should comply with the Provisions on the Administration of Internet Information Search Services, which forbid the promotion of illegal information such as gambling. The CAC says it will punish violators.

In a statement on its Weibo account, Baidu blamed the gambling websites and said it is collecting evidence to help the investigation. Baidu says it welcomes netizens reporting instances when illegal information appears on its website.

Michael Gu (顧國棟), marketing general manager at Baidu, said the company still has some problems and was working to boost protection against illegal advertising.

Almost 1,000 netizens have been talking about the issue on Baidu’s official Weibo account. Most seemed dissatisfied with Baidu’s statement, saying they do not believe Baidu was unaware of the illegal advertisements and suggesting the search engine benefited from promoting the gambling websites.

One reader published a review with Xi'an Evening News asking how the unauthorized websites could show on Baidu without the search engine's consent. He said that if reporters could easily find the illegal websites by using the search engine, it is unlikely that Baidu was unaware of the situation. He suggested there may be more illegal businesses on Baidu.

Another review on Yangzhou Evening News suggested that Baidu should strengthen the supervision of its advertisements.

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: Olivia Yang