Popular news aggregator Jinri Toutiao filed a lawsuit Tuesday against China’s largest search engine, Baidu, citing unfair competition.
In a statement, Toutiao said that when Baidu users searched for keywords related to Toutiao on their phones, the search engine attached a warning below links to Toutiao pages: “This website may not be accessible because of unstable service.”
The news aggregator also said on Monday that the first result when searching for “Jinri Toutiao” on Baidu was an article from Baidu’s own content platform citing news of Toutiao being ordered by the government in December to make changes to its platform because of pornographic and vulgar content. The same article recommended Baidu’s search app, or apps from other competitors, as alternatives.
“This kind of unfair competition by [Baidu’s] monopolistic advantage has seriously misled users and harmed our reputation, so we are forced to turn to the court and file this lawsuit,” the Tuesday statement read. The case was accepted the same day by the people’s court of Beijing’s Haidian District.
Baidu, meanwhile, bit back. “When a company struggles to develop, and when it’s trapped in anxiety, it shouldn’t use PR wars and lawsuits to deflect attention from its problems,” said the company said in its own statement, which it also posted to its Toutiao account.
Baidu said that the top-ranked search result about Toutiao was nothing out of the ordinary, as news of the company falling foul of authorities had attracted considerable attention and was relevant to users looking for news apps.
Launched in 2012, Toutiao extracts and displays content from media outlets ranging from state news agency Xinhua to tabloid gossip columnists based on algorithms that analyze users’ preferences. Despite government criticism of the company’s content-selection methods, its app has enjoyed surging popularity: It had 192 million monthly active users in December 2017, according to online consultancy iResearch. In January, following the slap on the wrist from government regulators, the company announced that it would recruit thousands of “content moderators” — ideally Party members — for its platform.
As the dominant search engine in China, Baidu began posting news below the search box on its homepage in 2016 — overlapping with Toutiao’s core feature.
Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.
(Header image: VCG)