BEIJING: Beijing Bytedance Telecommunications, the company behind the popular news aggregator Toutiao, is suing the search engine Baidu, alleging that it deliberately places negative news about its app in top search results.

This is according to a WeChat post from Monday night, reported by China Money Network, in which the company says it has received reports from users saying that the top result for the search “jinri toutiao” on Baidu was an article published by Baijiahao, Baidu’s content platform.

Said article concerned government criticism of Toutiao for distributing “vulgar and low quality” (sexually explicit) web content, and an order to update a number of its sections, according to Technode.

A second article showed a security alert in red beneath Toutiao’s web address. BBT/Toutiao dispute the security threat, as tests with both third-party online security platforms and Baidu’s own security testing systems showed that its website was secure.  

“As one of the biggest Internet firms in China, Baidu is a monopoly in the online search market with more than 6 billion search requests every day. Baidu takes the advantage to compete unfairly, which will mislead users and cause reputation damages to relevant parties,” Toutiao wrote in the post.

“We are forced to file a lawsuit and we call for fair competition.”

In response, Baidu said it was not surprising to see the coverage of the app appear as the top result “as it was a hot topic recently.” It added that search results are based on a number of factors, and that Toutiao deliberately ignored the section that displays its brand.

At the heart of the story, however, is competition over news feed advertising. Valued at $20 billion, Jinri Toutiao, which translates to ‘today’s headlines’, has become one of the most popular news services anywhere, attracting 120 million monthly users, according to Bloomberg.

Baidu, meanwhile, is China’s largest search engine, with 70% market share. For many startups in China, an alliance with it, Tencent, or Alibaba, is considered a hygiene factor. Toutiao’s independence has left it vulnerable, especially as Baidu operates its own news aggregator service.

Sourced from Toutiao, China Money Network, Technode, Sohu (Baidu), Bloomberg, Motley Fool; additional content by WARC staff