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The moral issue of advertising slot selling


Wei Zexi, a 21-year-old Chinese university student, died in April 2016 because of a rare form of cancer called synovial sarcoma. After normal medical treatment offered in public hospitals failed to improve his situation, he turned to the Internet and searched for alternative treatment by using Baidu, the largest web searching engine in China. He chose to receive a dubious medical treatment from a private hospital advertised in search results, which eventually cost him ¥200,000 and the chance to use proven treatments. This scandal hurt Baidu’s reputation and caused a downturn of its revenue.


This relates to the advertising selling problems we are currently discussing in lectures. Although this is something that happened last year, and it is not related to the technical ideas that are taught in classes, I think it is still very interesting to bring it into the scope. The procedures of assigning assignment slots discussed in lectures determine that the advertiser that had the highest value per click will get the advertisement slot of the highest click-through rate, which means that as long as the advertiser has enough money, one can get the advertisement slot one wants. This is definitely beneficial for both the web searching engines and advertisers because advertising generates a large portion of the revenue of web searching engines and gives businesses chances to promote oneself. However, if such procedure also takes place in more crucial areas such as medical treatment and education without any government regulation, it may lead to tragedies similar to the one that Mr. Wei and his family experienced. Internet and web searching engines bridge the gap between information and individuals, but without legal restraint, the strong power that Internet has may lead to bad results.


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October 2017