Chinese Web Search Giant Serves Two Masters

The New York Times describes problems facing Chinese search giant Baidu, including its changing relationship with the authorities following Google’s withdrawal.

The company has gained a reputation in the West for censoring search results, as well as for its tussles with major music labels over its controversial practice of “deep linking” to pirated music tracks hosted on other Web sites. In February, the U.S. trade representative named Baidu as one of the world’s “notorious markets” for piracy and copyright infringement.

That outside stigma has not stopped Chinese courts, Internet users and investors from siding with the search engine, which is based in Beijing. Since Google began directing mainland Chinese Web users to its Hong Kong site in March 2010, Baidu’s market share has soared and its share price has more than doubled ….

Baidu’s domestic legal setbacks have been interpreted as reflecting the Chinese authorities’ growing intolerance of copyright infringement. With Google out of the picture, Baidu has increased its hold over Internet searches. But it has lost some of the Chinese government’s support because there is no longer the threat of a foreign company gaining ground in the politically fraught realm of online information, analysts say ….

“Baidu’s biggest enemy is itself,” said Duncan Clark, chairman of BDA China, a technology consultancy. “Now that it has vanquished the bogeyman, it’s gotten so large it’s bumping up against the Party.”

With nowhere left to grow in Chinese search, Baidu is trying to diversify its offerings: “throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks“, according to one analyst quoted by the NYT. These new ventures include licensed video and music services Qiyi and Ting, and the new Baidu Browser, which bears a distinct resemblance to Google’s own browser, Chrome. In the background lurks founder Robin Li’s vision of “[search] box computing”, which was rumoured earlier this year to form the basis of a forthcoming mobile operating system.

See also: People’s Daily Launches “Jike” Search Engine, Profiting From Piracy: Robin Li’s Problem Is China’s Problem and Baidu Tests Web Browser as China Search Leader Expands Range, via CDT.