China's Biggest Search Engine Stops All Digital Currency Ads

Image credit: Bloomberg News

China’s most popular search engine, Baidu, has pulled all digital currency advertisements from its service, according to statements from OKCoin and Huobi, the two largest bitcoin exchanges in China.

According to the South China Morning Post, the Baidu ban was confirmed by both exchanges, but Baidu so far has not released an official statement on the controversial decision.

Following the decision by the People’s Bank of China to ban financial institutions from handling bitcoin transactions in 2013, Baidu promptly stopped accepting the digital currency as payment, citing volatility risks to consumers.

However, the SE behemoth allowed advertisements of various alternative digital currencies and services, and the company still has a stake in the SuperCharger Accelerator, which backed Hong Kong-based digital currency exchange Gatecoin in January of this year.

Baidu’s drastic change of heart has left many in the bitcoin community quite stunned. But Baidu’s actions on digital currency ads may not be without merit.

The highly-publicized Bitfinex hack at the beginning of August - which ranks as the second biggest heist in the digital currency space, with close to $70 million in bitcoin evaporating from client accounts - has contributed to the perception of virtual currencies as being unsafe. A perception Baidu’s marketing and public relations departments may have deemed to be a material threat.

Additionally, Baidu’s corporate image took a hit in July, after an investigative report by Beijing News revealed how illegal gambling operators were posing as legitimate corporate agents on Baidu to bypass filters and advertise their sites to the general public.

The gambling scandal also pushed Beijing regulators to issue a list of suggestions to Baidu on filtering potentially problematic advertisers. Baidu's drastic actions on digital currency ads may be a direct response to pressures exerted by the Chinese government.