The central government, unwilling to directly tackle Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU) as a monopoly despite its dominant position in the online search market, is instead attacking the company on several smaller fronts in a bid to curtail its influence. In one of two major developments, Chinese media are reporting that the telecoms regulator is preparing new online search regulations that would force all search engines to clearly state which of their results are paid and which are organic. (English article) Baidu currently mixes both types of results together, a practice many consider misleading, and charges advertisers a premium to have their paid results appear alongside organic results — something global leaders Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Yahoo (Nasdaq: YHOO) stopped doing long ago after public criticism. The influential China Central Television (CCTV), China’s national broadcaster, has been leading the charge on this front, fanning consumer outrage by broadcasting a series of investigative reports on the issue. (English article) In the second development, another industry regulator has called on all major Web sites to stop offering pirated music, in what again looks like a shot aimed at Baidu, whose popular music swapping service is rife with pirated songs. Baidu last month signed its first-ever deal with threel major music labels to provide legal copies of their songs, but added it had no plans to shut down the more popular site offering pirated titles. (previous post) These latest two government campaigns appear to be Beijing’s attempt to create a more level playing field in the lucrative online search market by attacking two of Baidu’s most popular tactics, both of which are ethically questionable. While such moves may help global leaders like Google and Yahoo, which operate in more transparent fashion, they are unlikely to boost domestic search engines like those operated by Tencent (HKEx: 700) and Sohu (Nasdaq: SOHU), which probably also use questionable tactics similar to Baidu’s.
Bottom line: The central government appears to be launching a campaign to rein in monopolistic Baidu, but will need to do more to create a more level playing field in online search.
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