Brothels on Baidu Maps – China’s latest society and culture news

Society & Culture

A summary of the top news in Chinese society and culture for August 10, 2017. Part of the daily SupChina newsletter, a convenient package of China’s business, political, and cultural news delivered to your inbox for free. Subscribe here.

On August 9, the Legal Daily published an article (in Chinese) detailing how brothels in Shanghai used search engine giant Baidu’s Maps service to attract clients. Using a map feature called POI (“points of interest” 兴趣点 xìngqùdiǎn), houses of ill repute could register themselves using a name that included a hint about prostitution — such as massage — and a fake address, together with a real phone number. The fake addresses would help to hide the real locations of the brothels from the police, while the real phone number would allow prospective customers to get directions to the real address.  

A pimp named Li Jing 李靖 told the Legal Daily reporter the business started after a 2015 police crackdown on prostitution in Dongguan, Guangdong Province, formerly known as China’s “capital of sex” and “the Eastern Amsterdam.” This forced many sex workers to migrate to Shanghai and other cities in search of new opportunities. Li also noted that the venue he worked for paid Baidu Maps 20,000 yuan ($3,000) every month to improve its visibility in search results. Li took the reporter to a venue and showed him a menu that offered different sex services priced between 800 yuan ($120) and 1,500 yuan ($225).

In response to the report, Baidu Maps posted a statement (in Chinese) on its official Weibo account: “We have removed all suspicious POIs,” reads the post. “Baidu Maps is always strict about vetting companies that register on Maps, and we welcome users to report mistakes.” The police also opened an investigation into the case.

Many reactions on Weibo from Chinese internet users were negative and recalled the string of scandals associated with Baidu over the past few years. “What a smart strategy. If you accidentally get infected with venereal disease through one of the venues promoted on Baidu Maps, you can go to a Putian hospital,” one commenter joked (in Chinese), referring to the death of a young cancer patient, Wei Zexi 魏则西, who received expensive yet ineffective treatment in 2016 at a Putian hospital, which he learned about through a search result on Baidu that the hospital had paid for.