• http://www.seoskeptic.com/ Aaron Bradley

    It would have been interesting and informative if Mr. Atkins-Krüger had met with one or more Baidu executives and asked one or more probing questions about how Baidu operations and its relationship with the Chinese government. Instead we’re treated to a sit-down with the company’s PR front man – the Director of International Communications – and a retelling of his response to one of the most leading, soft-ball questions imaginable: “What would you rather people better understood relating to Baidu and its position in the market?”

    It’s hardly surprising that the account that follows is framed as a discussion of the “myths” that Baidu wishes to dismiss. Helpfully for Baidu, no counter-arguments are raised or hard questions asked of Mr. Kuo, and the official responses are taken on face value. “… we will spend no more time on this than saying that Baidu confirms this is ‘Absolutely not true!'” Apparently, all we need is Mr. Kuo’s word on something, and we’re good to go.

    But nowhere does this uncritical assessment play out worse than in the gloss of Baidu’s complicit role in censorship. The party line (literally) is recounted, with Mr. Kuo proclaiming that Baidu is “dedicated to expanding users’ information horizons” while, of course, forced to comply with China’s censorship requirements.

    That one need to only not be “proactive” to be given a glowing recommendation for faithfully blocking Chinese citizens’ information to basic facts about the history and politics of their country (in Baidu-land, Tiananmen Square is a nice place to have lunch) seems to me to be setting the bar pretty low.

    But even at that Baidu has just such a history of being “proactive” in regard to censorship. In 2009 CEO Robin Li was, along with others, awarded the “Self-Discipline Award” by the Chinese government, which is given for “harmonious and healthy Internet development.” As one might expect, what this means when translated from official Chinese double-speak is an award given for aggressive self-censorship.

    Is Baidu “inventing its own areas to censor”? Mr. Atkins-Krüger suggests that is not the case, but how could he possibly know (unless he was given a hands-on, unrestricted tour of Baidu’s censorship department – or “truth unit”, or whatever its called at Baidu)? He doesn’t even cite Mr. Kuo on this.

    Not that, as Mr. Atkins-Krüger should know, that the claims of a company’s communications specialist should be viewed uncritically, and that just because a company representative labels something a “myth” it is necessarily so.

  • http://searchengineland.com Andy Atkins-Krüger

    Aaron, Thanks for an interesting comment. In fact, I met with several senior executives during my last visit which will follow in later articles. You are right that Kaiser Kuo is responsible for international communications – but he has previously worked for other digital businesses in China and had some interesting views which I’m confident give valuable insights into the business.

  • http://ggtheory.com GE.GAO

    Is censorship a major issue to Baidu users? Certainly is. But to my understanding, such issue is probably not on topics of Tiananmen Square as Aaron suggested. Censorship becomes a major problem to most Chinese users when it interrupts the daily necessary information collection, which is called “sensitive keywords”. Such keywords list, however, in most part is created by the internet companies themselves, no exception to Baidu. The problem is that companies like Baidu do not only build such list on government interests, but also for its own good.

    Andy’s article is written on the angle of Western audience, most of whom are not Baidu users. For anyone do business on Baidu, the core concern is probably Baidu’s business practices, which is absolutely not as clean as Kaiser describes. Any guess what, probably more censorship (business regulations) is needed in this area, not less.

  • Matt

    “In particular, this related to links to sites where downloading unlicensed music was possible. Kaiser Kuo points out ‘Baidu respects intellectual property rights and has never provided the facility to illegally download music from Baidu’s servers – but we are a search engine.’ ”

    This is nonsense. An investigation by The Register* showed that Baidu’s MP3 search always found illegal music on a rapidly-changing network of anonymous servers, but was completely unable to find legal music from major Chinese online music companies. Isn’t it odd how Baidu always knew exactly what tracks were contained on the obscure file names on those rapidly-changing servers…? Even though no other search engine did… What a coincidence!

    Now bear in mind the fact that as recently as 2007, Baidu’s only competitive advantage over was in MP3 search. In a usability study with Chinese participants reported on Search Engine Land**, Google came out streets ahead.

    Baidu has muscled its way to dominance by flouting Chinese and international copyright laws. It’s sad to see Mr Kuo, who is a good writer, trying to defend them.


  • Matt

    Baidu’s only competitive advantage over was

    => Baidu’s only competitive advantage over Google was