Chinese internet users are finding it hard to find what they want on the country’s dominant search engine.

Last week, writer Liuliu scolded Baidu and CEO Robin Li on Weibo after searching for the US Consulate in Shanghai and only finding a page of ads instead -- with no link to the official site, which led to an apology from Baidu.

And then, over the weekend, China’s state broadcaster CCTV aired a news segment about a woman in Shanghai who searched for a local public hospital for rhinitis treatment. Instead of the public hospital, the woman was led to a different hospital with a very similar name instead. That hospital charged the woman more than 10,000 yuan (US$1,472) for an operation -- before she went to the real hospital, and discovered that an operation was unnecessary.

Baidu has been repeatedly under fire for sponsored search results, ever since a university student died in 2016 after undergoing a treatment found via a sponsored search result. The company scaled back on paid advertising after that, but users and Chinese media say it’s coming back.

Baidu apologized again after the CCTV report, and said that it will stop showing ads when users search for public hospitals. In another article, Baidu explained to users what they can do when seeing sponsored results.

Its first suggestion is that users should go for links marked with either “Verified” or “Official site” when looking for a hospital or a brand. It then explained how users can send feedback to Baidu when they find an official site that’s not marked, and report when they spot a scam site.

Baidu highlighted its “Verified” icon in the post. (Picture: Baidu)

“Despite the fact that Baidu has been striving to strike scam sites and underground operations, some lawbreakers are always finding ways to violate the rights of internet users,” Baidu said in the article, where it also pledged to compensate users who have been scammed.

People are not satisfied with the company’s response.

“Baidu is the one taking money from these lawbreakers and introducing them to users, and here you are saying it’s not your fault?” one Weibo user says.

Baidu’s article was reportedly first published on the company’s official WeChat public account and is still circulating on Chinese media -- but it has now been deleted from Baidu’s WeChat account. Baidu declined our request to comment on why they deleted the article.

In its apology, the company also took the opportunity to plug another Baidu product, suggesting that users try out the “Simple Search” mobile app.

The hook? It promises to never show ads.