Car-ride service Uber has faced controversy after controversy over the last several weeks, but the company actually had an upbeat announcement on Wednesday.
China-based search engine Baidu has signed a deal to invest in Uber, the companies announced. Although the amount of the investment was not disclosed, the companies confirmed that Baidu's mapping and mobile-search applications will now integrate with Uber's service, allowing people to more readily find rides.
The Baidu integration could dramatically boost Uber's standing in China, where it currently operates in nine cities. According to the companies, Baidu's mobile search has over 500 million monthly active users and Baidu Map has more than 240 million monthly active users. Perhaps most importantly, Baidu is also in the good graces of the Chinese government, which could provide Uber some much-needed air cover as it continues to face concerned and even actively combative governments at all levels around the world.
Over the last few weeks alone,and has been . Uber has been hit with charges in Thailand; the company has disregarded warnings not to set up shop in Seoul, South Korea; and even Portland, Ore.'s government has called Uber's service illegal.
At play in most of the cities is whether Uber should be able to compete as a car service against taxi companies. In many cities around the world, taxi consortiums have formed to take on Uber, saying that the company's drivers don't have the required licenses to operate the service. Others have taken aim at Uber for using mobile cellular technology to allow users to hail cars.
For its part, Uber has remained defiant in the face of the controversies, arguing in some cases that its service is perfectly legal and in others saying that it will work with local governments to reach the required accords. In either case, Uber continues to operate in cities in which it has been warned not to, effectively thumbing its nose at local authorities.
Uber, which operates in 250 cities in 50 countries, also announced earlier this month that it raised $1.2 billion in a round of funding believed to have been based on a $40 billion valuation.
Though Uber failed to release the size of Baidu's investment, a report surfaced last week saying that the China-based search engine could have dropped as much as $600 million into the car service. Assuming a $40 billion valuation, that would give Baidu about 1.5 percent equity in the company. Whether that's the actual amount, however, is unknown.
Neither Baidu nor Uber immediately respond to a request for comment.