Li Yanhong gives a presentation at a Baidu company event. (Photo/Xinhua)
Several people who allegedly carried out the illegal act of deleting online posts, working with or for Chinese search giant Baidu, were arrested recently, pointing to problems created by the heated competition among internet companies in China, an industry insider told the First Financial Daily.
Prosecutors in Beijing recently announced the arrest of two people, including a Baidu employee who was the administrator of the search website's online forum Tieba, and an outsider authorized to delete online posts on the forum, the newspaper reported. The two people who were arrested, prosecutors said, were suspected of illegally deleting posts to earn 67,400 Chinese yuan (US$10,661) in a half-month period, an act considered as taking a bribe under Chinese law.
In a statement to the newspaper, Baidu said the alleged crimes were the personal actions of the people arrested, claiming it had neither been involved, nor profited from these activities.
Baidu also noted that it provided a channel for users to complain and request the removal of online posts on the forum, after review.
Tieba is one of Baidu's key products and saw high growth in its online traffic since it was launched in 2003, the newspaper reported.
About 200 million internet users or 39% of China's online population, make 1.8 billion posts on Tieba per month. Further, the forum also enjoys high user retention rates.
The newspaper said Tieba's influence mainly arose from its role as an online media platform, rather than from the content created through interaction among its users, which was a smaller part of the forum. To address this, Baidu introduced an advertising product for Tieba earlier this month, aimed at better matching advertisers with their target audiences, using more social networking features, the newspaper added.
The newspaper noted that the problems faced by internet businesses, such as unethical behavior by employees, are the result of the rapid expansion of companies in this sector and intense competition.
Sam Yu, a senior partner at Beijing Sheng Feng Law Firm, also said that such unethical behavior damaged brand value and operations and drove the black market for online services, including paid post deletion.
Some services, in fact, posted negative messages against companies, subsequently asking these companies to pay fees to have these messages deleted, according to the newspaper.
Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba is one of the few companies that has set up an internal affairs unit to deal with illegal and unethical behavior by employees, with industry insiders calling for greater scrutiny of the internal activity in companies, to ensure their healthy development.