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2019-03-01 16:12:22

Chinese tech giant Baidu says it has initiated a review of its popular online encyclopedia, shortly after links on school-related pages were found to redirect to a porn website.

The audit of Baidu Baike, a Chinese-language platform similar to Wikipedia, is already underway and links will be checked frequently from now on, according to a notice posted Thursday on the company’s official Weibo microblog. Baidu said that “broken links were taken advantage of by lawbreakers,” referencing now-deleted links on its digital encyclopedia that had redirected to a website for pornography — which is illegal in China — instead of a website about schools in the southern city of Guangzhou.

The announcement follows the publication of an article Thursday about the links by Fang Kecheng, a Ph.D. student at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. After being tipped off by a Baidu Baike user, Fang found that dozens of seemingly innocuous links on pages about kindergartens and primary schools in Guangzhou were redirecting to the porn site. Fang said that according to webpage archives, the URL attached to the links had directed to a site named “Guangzhou School Network” as late as 2015 but had begun redirecting to the porn site by 2018.

“Technically, it’s not hard for Baidu to write a program to check broken links and the suspicious redirection of web pages,” Fang wrote in Thursday’s post. “Unfortunately, Baidu did not do this and instead let the operators of porn websites take advantage of these loopholes.”

In an email reply to Sixth Tone on Friday, Baidu shared the same statement from its Weibo microblog, adding only that “Baidu Baike will check the URL redirection of webpages” regularly. When Sixth Tone visited a Baidu Baike page that had been found to contain a porn link on Friday, the link had been removed.

Speaking to Sixth Tone by phone on Friday, Fang emphasized the company’s responsibility to its users. “It is difficult for users to be omniscient and omnipotent, so the platform should take responsibility in the checking and filtering process to ensure the quality of information,” he said. “Baidu Baike should have expected and prepared to tackle this kind of problem in advance, but it failed to do so.”

With many foreign platforms blocked by the government’s so-called Great Firewall, Chinese netizens largely rely on mainland websites for their digital needs. And Baidu Baike, like Wikipedia, allows users to submit changes and contributions to articles. For these reasons, Fang said, the platform has a duty to oversee the quality of its content.

“As the main source for the majority of Chinese people to get information in their daily lives, I hope Baidu pays more attention to its encyclopedia platform,” he said.

This is not the first time this year that Baidu has faced criticism. In January, another article by Fang found that the company was unfairly promoting one of its own products, Baijiahao, in its search engine results.

Editor: Layne Flower.

(Header image: A woman uses the search engine of Chinese tech company Baidu, Hong Kong, Feb. 26, 2014. Brent Lewin/Bloomberg/VCG)