A screenshot of Baidu's hemophilia forum. (Photo/CRIENGLISH.com)
China's top search engine - Baidu - has come under fire for capitalizing on its disease-themed forums, as users revealed that the online communities have been flooded with quacks and advertisements for unlicensed hospitals.
The IT giant announced on Tuesday that it will end cooperation with commercial groups over management of the medical platforms.
Baidu also said that only non-profit and commonwealth organizations will have administrative access to its online forums.
The latest scandal follows word from a user, with the screen name of "Ma Yi Cai", that Baidu sold the management rights of an online hemophilia forum to an unlicensed private hospital.
"Ma Yi Ca,", also one of the former administrators of the forum, said the hospital used the platform for self-promotion and deleted comments that challenged its credentials.
"The new administrator takes a series of actions. At first, he canceled our management rights, and then deleted a large number of posts and articles in the forum."
"Ma Yi Cai" uploaded a string of screenshots as evidence. The post quickly went viral, drawing thousands of clicks and comments.
The hemophilia forum is one of several disease-related forums under Baidu Tieba, a popular bulletin board consisting of 19 million sub-forums, covering a variety of topics.
The disease-themed forums often function as online support groups where patients exchange information on treatment while cheering each other up.
Moreover, Baidu admitted that previous administrators of some disease-related online forums took advantage of their rights to release commercial advertisements in the platform and seek personal interests.
Wang Jian, a current affairs commentator, says Baidu should be cautious about pursuing profits when things are related to people's health and economic security.
"It seems like a win-win cooperation for both Baidu and medical groups in Baidu Tieba's forum. However, medical scalpers will definitely make advertisements on the platform to attract patients after they pay a lot to gain the management rights. And it will lead to problems relating to patients' health like medicines not symptomatic and a delay for optimal treatment. "
Cong Lixian, law professor with Beijing Foreign Studies University, said it is more important to discuss whether Baidu should assume liability for users' losses brought about by the fake hospitals and doctors.
The crisis forced Baidu to stop cashing in on its disease-themed platforms.
At present, Baidu has replaced the administrator of the hemophilia online forum with a non-profit organization called "the Hemophilia Home of China."
Forums on Epilepsy, Parkinson's Disease, and others are still reportedly run by medical groups.