The battle between Chinese internet companies escalated this week as Beijing-based news and information content platform Toutiao announced it will sue search engine Baidu Inc.
This move shows major industry players are eager to take control over access to the internet, an expert said.
Toutiao said on Monday it will sue Baidu for "attempted unfair competition." The Haidian District People's Court in Beijing took the case on Tuesday, Toutiao said in a statement on its WeChat account.
When users searched on Baidu for Toutiao, the search engine deliberately returned negative results, according to Toutiao. For instance, the first result about Toutiao showed that some content had been compiled by unofficial sources.
The second result led to the official website of Toutiao; however, upon clicking on the link, it generated a warning that "this website could not be visited because of an unstable server," Toutiao's statement claimed.
Toutiao, the news aggregator, was valued at about billion last year, Reuters reported on Friday.
The company uses algorithms and artificial intelligence to select news, online books, video and other content for readers, the media report said.
Toutiao said in a separate statement on Monday that it has undergone a site safety test via a third-party website and the result showed that its website is functioning normally. "This outcome proves that Baidu's search results and warnings are misinformation," it said.
Making claims of "attempted unfair competition is just an excuse to fight for access, which has become a new battleground for taking a larger share in the internet sector," Liu Dingding, a Beijing-based veteran industry analyst, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
Baidu's search engine has for a long time operated as major gateway to the internet for users, he noted. "As Toutiao has been distributing more content to users in recent years, it has become a strong rival to Baidu."
In recent years, Baidu has lost a large number of technical staff, according to Toutiao's statement.
However, the abnormal search results were probably not caused by this outflow, nor were they the result of work by interns, Toutiao claimed.
"We believe that it's a malicious effort to smear Toutiao's reputation," it said.
Baidu said in a statement sent to the Global Times on Tuesday that Toutiao faces a dilemma in its corporate development, and should not divert public attention to this "PR fight."
Toutiao's claim that Baidu has lost a large number of technical experts is untrue and has damaged the company's reputation, the search engine noted.
Baidu's natural search results are related to user needs, relevance, timeliness and the user's click behavior, Baidu added.
"The competition will become more and more intense in the near future," Liu predicted, noting that the rivalry, however, will prompt the companies to provide better services to users.