After authority summoned company executives for a grilling
Robin Li Yanhong, CEO of China's search engine giant Baidu Inc, issued a public apology at a meeting on Sunday about a scandal involving the company's disease-related online forums, domestic news portal yicai.com reported.
"Last week was a special time for Baidu … we will reflect deeply in a bid to turn this crisis into an opportunity," Li was quoted as saying in the report.
Baidu was recently mired in a scandal involving its hemophilia forum, which had been sold to a private hospital that promoted itself in the forum and allegedly banned the forum's original operators from posting, media reports said.
The disclosure triggered public outrage, because the forum was a platform where users could discuss information on medical services.
In response to the uproar, the company said Tuesday that it would end such business collaboration in its disease-related online forums.
"The [operation of] Baidu Tieba, online forums run by Baidu, will only be open to authoritative public service organizations rather than to those seeking business opportunities," according to the company's statement.
Baidu then replaced the operator of the hemophilia forum with Hemophilia Home of China (HHC), an NGO dedicated to helping hemophilia patients, making HHC the first NGO to run a disease-related forum, the company said.
Because Baidu Tieba exists as a public service and plays a vital role in public communication, the operator should not be any third-party commercial institution that aims to seek profits, said Lu Zhenwang, CEO of Shanghai Wanqing Commerce Consulting Co.
Lu told the Global Times on Sunday that, "Baidu Tieba should not be just a private asset of the company, and it is expected to shoulder some social responsibilities."
Baidu Tieba has 1 billion registered members and 19 million different forums, with 300 million monthly active users, according to the statement. In 2014, Baidu began to commercialize the operation of its online forums and tried to open some of the operation rights to firms and individuals in the first half of 2015, the Securities Daily reported Wednesday.
However, Baidu Tieba only contributes a very small part of Baidu's revenue as its market share only accounted for 0.8 percent in 2015 in terms of advertisement and marketing, the Securities Daily report said, citing a study released recently by market consultancy Analysys International.
With the growth of the mobile Internet, the commercialization of Baidu Tieba is a normal move that is necessary to proceed, Li Chao, an analyst at Beijing-based consultancy iResearch, told the Global Times on Sunday.
"The Internet titan's original intention for the establishment of its forums was good," Li said, noting that this scandal can be an opportunity for Baidu to improve its ability to examine and distinguish potential risks of the sector and seek better prevention in the future.
Baidu also said on its Sina Weibo account on Saturday that the company is re-examining its internal approval process for online forums and will launch an online channel for public reports and supervision.
The Cyberspace Administration of China summoned Baidu executives for a grilling on Friday, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
It also ordered Internet regulators in Beijing, where Baidu is headquartered, to punish the company.