China’s leading search engine Baidu has halted—sans any warning—all bitcoin and digital currency-related advertising on its network.
Chinese media outlet CnLedger broke the news on Friday, with a tweet that said Baidu “has stopped all virtual coin related keyword advertising (paid search), including bitcoin.” Local bitcoin exchanges OKCoin and Huobi has confirmed the ban to Bloomberg News, but declined to comment on it.
The way analysts see it, there are two possible reasons why Baidu has decided to quietly remove digital currency promotions. First, the decision could be part of the company’s plan to cull out Ponzi schemes or scam-like cryptocurrency advertisements on the platform. Or it could be due to a request from the government.
Zennon Kapron, managing director of Shanghai-based consulting firm Kapronasia, told Bloomberg the move “could be a precursor to China being ready to push for a more nationalized approach to virtual currencies.”
Digital currencies have a murky status in China, but there are indications that the country is keeping up with the changing times. The government is reportedly planning on having a set of laws that will consider cryptocurrencies as properties “almost on par with physical and financial assets,” which means that they will be under the scope of the civil rights related to property in general.
Baidu has been operating under the watchful eye of Beijing authorities following the gambling promotion scandal that erupted back in July, when a media outlet ran a report detailing how online betting operators hijacked corporate ad links on the search engine site, sending users who clicked on the links to unauthorized gambling sites rather than the companies the ads claimed to be promoting.
At the time, Beijing officials gave the company a list of “to-do” things, including possibly filing criminal charges against the staff whom they think was responsible for the advertising boo-boo. The company was also required to be more responsive to public complaints, and to give timely feedback.
Current bitcoin price and transaction volume
Bitcoin traded at a slightly lower $579.28 on Friday, with a market capitalization of $9.14 billion and trade volume of $18.02 million.