Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Jul 11, 2016

China to require clear labels on paid search results

Government demands distinction between paid-for and organic search results after death related to bogus cancer treatment advertised on Baidu.

The rules require clear labeling of paid-for versus organic search results (screenshot of Baidu today)
The rules require clear labeling of paid-for versus organic search results (screenshot of Baidu today)

BEIJING - On Friday China's State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) held a news conference to formally release what it calls "Interim Measures for Internet Advertising" (see link in Chinese here). 

According to the SAIC, because many internet advertisements have "different characteristics" from traditional advertisements, resulting in "many problems" faced by market regulators when investigating related cases, thus prompting "an urgent need" for this to be addressed through legislation.

Under the rules, an internet ad shall be "prominently marked 'advertisement' to enable consumers to identify it" as such. The Chinese government, often vague in the wording of rulings, has for the first time specified that paid-for and organic search results "should be clearly differentiated".

This now means the authorities consider all forms of paid-for search results to be "internet advertising". 

The regulation was initially drafted last July, but few details were released. Still, the latest stipulation is said to be a quickened response to the public outrage following the April death of a college student who found an experimental treatment for a rare form of tissue cancer through the Baidu search engine. The treatment was actually a promoted link to a military-affiliated hospital.

In addition, the wide-ranging rules for proper labelling also apply to ads served via programmatic means, as well as embedded links, images and videos in emails with the purpose of promoting goods or services.

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