Baidu, the biggest search engine in China, has been accused of manipulating medical advertisements in echoes of a deadly scandal in 2016.
The claim against Baidu was made by China Central Television (CCTV) on September 9 after the national broadcaster reported receiving complaints from the public.
According to the complainants, after searching for the Affiliated Hospital of Fudan University in Shanghai on Baidu, they were directed to a hospital named Fuda Hospital based on the search results. However, most of them reported no improvement in their health conditions despite spending large sums of money.
Baidu came under heavy criticism two years ago following the death of a student who underwent an experimental cancer treatment from a hospital whose ads were listed on the top of Baidu's search results.
CCTV reported that in June 2018, a woman identified only as Zhou from Ningbo, Zhejiang Province in eastern China, searched for the Eye & Ent Hospital of Fudan University on Baidu, a tertiary hospital in China, but Fuda Hospital popped up.
Without hesitation, Zhou went to Fuda for rhinitis treatment and the doctor suggested a turbinectomy costing over 10,000 yuan (around US$1457.50).
Zhou didn't find any problem with the hospital until she went for a follow-up review after the surgery.
"The hospital charged the treatment fee for every ten minutes, which is so strange," she said.
When she went back home, Zhou checked the price of the medicine from Fuda on the website and found that it was twice as expensive as other hospitals.
"My sister saw that there were many negative comments about Fuda hospital, especially unreasonable charges, excessive medical treatment," Zhou said. "They all said it is not the authentic hospital of Fudan University."
When Zhou transferred to the authentic Fudan University, she found that she only need some routine medical treatment.
There she spent only 200 yuan (around $29.15), including the expert registration and drug fees.
When notified, Baidu deleted all of the promotional content and misleading information related to "Fuda Hospital."
In its defense, Baidu said that the similarity of the abbreviation of Shanghai Fudan University Affiliated Hospital and Shanghai Fuda Hospital made it possible for internet users to receive misleading information concerning them.
As Baidu said, Shanghai Fuda Hospital is a private hospital operating legally.
"We will further improve the protection of relevant brands in the Affiliated Hospital of Fudan University," the search engine company told Beijing News.
The Shanghai Administration Bureau for Industry and Commerce said investigators are looking into whether Fuda Hospital is guilty of false advertising.
The department has also requested Fuda to stop any illegal activities immediately.