Baidu to shutter online medical consultation service

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Chinese search and online services conglomerate Baidu will shutter its medical consultation service after a string of medicine advertisement scandals bit into the company’s reputation and revenues last year.

The online consultation platform, Baidu Yisheng, will begin taking some of its services offline on March 10, with all services halting completely by April 1 as part of corporate restructuring, according to an announcement made on its official WeChat account.

Baidu narrowly missed revenue expectations in the final quarter of last year, as the Chinese search engine tried to reassure investors that the worst of its latest advertising scandal was behind it.

In May last year public outcry and regulatory pressure forced Baidu to apologise for seeking to financially exploit medical information bulletin boards and said it would stop the practice on its Tieba, or Post Bar, site.

In January the company came under fire for selling the right to moderate its online medical advice forums to for-profit hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. That was followed by another scandal sparked in April by the death of a young man who had purchased an experimental cancer treatment advertised on Baidu.com.

Public outcry prompted regulators to force the company to reduce advertising displayed alongside its search results, in addition to calling for the company vet its advertisers more closely. As a result the company lost 18.6 per cent of its advertising clients in the fourth quarter compared to a year before, with full-year operating profit dropping 13.9 per cent.

Baidu’s New York listed shares are down 5.5 per cent since the company announced its earnings in late February.

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