2008年9月23日 星期二

Baidu Caught In Backlash Over Tainted Milk Powder

Baidu Caught In Backlash Over Tainted Milk Powder

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Chinese Internet-search giant Baidu.com Inc. has become embroiled in a public backlash over tainted milk, in a sign that fast growth and market dominance have a flip side for a company sometimes called the 'Google of China.'

The Beijing-based company has repeatedly denied speculation online that it censored information about tainted milk powder, which has killed four infants and sickened more than 6,200 in recent weeks, and accepted payments from dairy companies to keep negative items from appearing in its search results.

Baidu this week said it had been approached by several dairy producers but said it has 'flat out refused' to screen out unfavorable news and accused rivals of fanning the flames.

'Baidu respects the truth, and our search results reflect that commitment,' it said in a statement.

China's government has said contamination of baby formula with melamine, an industrial chemical, caused the deaths and illnesses. A Chinese manufacturer and local-government officials declined for weeks to disclose the discovery that a popular baby formula contained a toxic chemical even while the maker was recalling the product.

There is no proof that Baidu played a part in concealing the discovery. But observers of China's lucrative Internet business said Baidu's online antagonists present another challenge for a company that is already grappling with tighter privacy restrictions and increasingly vocal competitors.

It also shines a light on Baidu's business practices. Unlike Google Inc., which places paid search results outside of the main search listings, Baidu allows advertisers to pay their way up to higher positions within search results.

'Google is under much more international scrutiny and needs to be responsible,' said Mark Natkin, managing director of Marbridge Consulting, a Beijing-based Internet and technology firm. 'In terms of market practices, [Baidu] definitely takes more liberties.'

Baidu declined Thursday to comment on the practice.

The Chinese company integrates paid advertisements into its regular search listings to a greater extent than most search engines, though it started adding a small two-character tag to identify the ads after users complained. Baidu doesn't use a different background color as Google does to distinguish paid ads, and for a popular search term such as 'mobile phone,' paid results take up almost the entire first page.

Industry analysts said the practice leads some of China's more educated and experienced urban Internet users away from Baidu. 'There's a limit to people's patience,' said Mr. Natkin, though he added China's young Internet market is more forgiving than in the West.

Baidu does 'make a lot of money, and they don't lose as many clients as one might expect them to in a more sophisticated market,' he said.

In the second quarter of this year, Baidu held 64.4% of China's search-engine market by revenue, up from 60.7% in the first quarter, according to research firm Analysys International. During the same period, Google's share of the market fell to 26.1% from 26.8% in the first quarter, Analysys said. Baidu, which is listed on the U.S.'s Nasdaq Stock Market, has a market capitalization of $8.7 billion. Its second-quarter profit rose 87% to $39 million, while revenue doubled to $117 million.

Auction site Taobao.com and its parent, Alibaba Group, are facing major challenges from Baidu's plans to introduce its own e-commerce businesses. These will include business-to-business and business-to-consumer sites that would compete directly with Alibaba.com; an online-auction site that would compete with Taobao; and an online-payment system to rival Alibaba's Alipay system.

That dynamic has played into a brewing dispute between the companies over online privacy. On Sept. 8, Taobao.com blocked Baidu's Web-crawling search software, known as 'spiders,' from accessing Taobao's listings to collect and index data. Other search engines such as Google and Yahoo are partially blocked from accessing Taobao, though to a lesser extent than Baidu. Yahoo China is owned by Alibaba Group.

Alibaba said the measures are being taken to protect consumers from fraudulent sellers who may try to manipulate search-engine results. 'Taobao blocks search engines to varying degrees depending on the search engine's trustworthiness,' Alibaba spokeswoman Christina Splinder said. 'What Taobao has found was that traffic coming from Baidu was of low quality and very few of the clicks from Baidu converted into actual sales for merchants on Taobao.'

Robin Li, Baidu founder, chairman and chief executive, attributed Taobao's blocking of Baidu to 'concern over our upcoming launch of a competing service.'

Other Chinese Internet companies are starting to realize the value of user-generated content by making their information off-limits to others who might try to reap its benefits. Several popular Web sites, including Sohu.com Inc.'s blogging service and Xiaonei.com, a Chinese version of Facebook, have also moved to block spiders. Spokeswomen for Sohu and Xiaonei each said that the measures applied to all search engines and were intended to protect the privacy of their users.

Mr. Li remains unconcerned. 'This is nothing new and has never had any noticeable impact on any search engines, including Baidu,' he said.

Sky Canaves


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國網絡搜索巨頭百度公司(Baidu.com Inc.)因毒奶粉事件而受到公眾的強烈質疑。這顯示出這家不時被稱為“中國谷歌”的企業有時也會因其高速增長和市場的主導地位而受到拖累。






這也讓更多人瞭解了百度的業務規范。同將付費搜索結果放在主搜索列表之外的谷歌(Google Inc.)不同﹐百度允諾廣告客戶在付費後可以上提其內容在搜索結果中的位置。

總部位於北京的互聯網及技術企業Marbridge Consulting的董事總經理馬克•納塔金(Mark Natkin)說﹐谷歌面臨更多的國際關注﹐因此需要更加負責。從市場規范上來說﹐百度顯然更加隨意。


百 度在將付費廣告加入到普通搜索結果方面比大多數搜索引擎都要走得遠﹐不過在有用戶表示不滿後﹐百度開始在這些廣告下方添加“推廣”兩字以方便識別。百度並 未象谷歌那樣使用不同的背景色來區別付費廣告﹐比如像“手機”這樣的熱門搜索詞﹐付費廣告的結果幾乎佔據了整個第一頁。



研 究機構易觀國際(Analysys International)的數據顯示﹐今年第二季度﹐按收入計﹐百度在中國搜索引擎市場的份額達到了64.4%﹐高於第一季度的60.7%。易觀國際 稱﹐同期谷歌的市場份額從第一季度26.8%下降到了26.1%。百度在美國納斯達克市場上市﹐市值為87億美元。第二季度該公司的利潤增長了87%﹐至 3,900萬美元﹐收入增長一倍至1.17億美元。

拍賣網站淘寶(Taobao.com)及其母公司阿里巴巴集團(Alibaba Group)面臨著百度計劃自己推出電子商務業務的嚴峻挑戰。百度這一業務將包括直接與阿里巴巴網站(Alibaba.com)競爭的B2B和B2C網站 ﹔同淘寶競爭的網上拍賣網站﹔以及同阿里巴巴的支付寶(Alipay)競爭的網上付費系統。

這一動向很快演變為這些公司在網絡隱私權方面 的爭鬥。9月8日﹐淘寶封鎖了百度的網頁搜索軟件(即網絡爬虫)﹐不允許其進入淘寶的目錄中搜索和編錄數據。谷歌和雅虎(Yahoo)等搜索引擎也受到了 淘寶的部分封鎖﹐但程度低於百度。雅虎中國(Yahoo China)是阿里巴巴集團的子公司。

阿里巴巴表示﹐採取這些措施為了保護消費 者不被試圖操縱搜索結果的不良商家所欺詐。阿里巴巴發言人斯潘林達(Christina Splinder)稱﹐淘寶對搜索引擎的封鎖程度取決於搜索引擎的信譽。淘寶稱﹐它發現來自百度的流量質量較低﹐來自百度的點擊很少能轉化為淘寶商戶的實 際銷售。

百度創始人、董事長兼首席執行長李彥宏(Robin Li)將淘寶屏蔽百度歸因於“擔心我們即將推出與其競爭的服務”。

其 他中國互聯網企業也開始認識到其用戶所創建內容的商業價值﹐為了不使其他企業從中獲益﹐它們開始限制這些企業獲得此類信息。包括搜狐(Sohu.com Inc.)博客服務和中國版Facebook──校內網(Xiaonei.com)在內的多家網站也開始採取措施封鎖網絡爬虫。搜狐和校內網的發言人都表 示﹐將對所有搜索引擎採用這些措施﹐以保護其用戶的隱私權。


Sky Canaves