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Chinese Government Suspected of Unleashing Astroturfers Against Apple 194

Posted by samzenpus
from the bad-for-business dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A piece attacking Apple's treatment of Chinese consumers that aired on official government TV last week was followed by a wave of anti-Apple posts on Weibo (China's equivalent of Twitter) by Chinese celebrities. On the China-watching site Tea Leaf Nation, Liz Carter reports that sharp-eyed Weibo users noticed something funny about one such post from an actor and singer named Peter Ho: 'Cannot believe Apple is playing so many dirty tricks in customer service. As an Apple fan, I feel hurt...Need to post around 8:20 pm.' What was this 'need to post at 8:20 pm' business? After Weibo lit up with sarcastic tags such as #PostAround820, Ho claimed (rather unconvincingly) that someone must have hacked his account and posted the anti-Apple 'Weibo'. Mike Elgan at CultOfMac notes a parallel with the Chinese government's rough handling of Google in 2009, which led to Google's closing of its mainland operations. Google claimed that government commissioned hackers had apparently stolen search engine source code, Gmail messages and other user data. An earlier article by Elgan on Datamation notes the uneasy business relationship between Apple and China."
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Chinese Government Suspected of Unleashing Astroturfers Against Apple

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  • Why government? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 17, 2013 @09:49AM (#43196799)

    A lot of Chinese companies are real s**ts, and a lot of Chinese companies make their own Android handsets.

    IMHO, follow the money. It will be paid for troll turf from one of the China handset makers.

    Also why do you think the Chinese government is some sort of magic all seeing, all acting entity? Realistically they want to project that image, but part of the reason China is such a wild west is because the Chinese government is so corrupt and no-seeing.

    That's why companies like this don't fear smear tactics. Because they can always pay a bribe and walk away.

    • Re:Why government? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Sunday March 17, 2013 @10:23AM (#43196963)

      Also why do you think the Chinese government is some sort of magic all seeing, all acting entity?

      There is a perception that the Chinese government is a monolithic entity, with unity of purpose. This is not at all the case. Because the communist party has a monopoly on political power, everyone with ambition has to be in it. So the CCP includes people of every ideological hue, from hardcore Marxists to free market libertarians. These people often work in the same departments. Many Chinese government agencies are run by committee, rather than having a single person in charge, which results in muddled policies as factions maneuver to obstruct each other.

      I spent several years working in Shanghai, and found that the same is true in most Chinese businesses. The amount of office politics, infighting and backstabbing is probably an order of magnitude worse than anything I have experienced in the US.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mc6809e (214243)

        There is a perception that the Chinese government is a monolithic entity, with unity of purpose. This is not at all the case. Because the communist party has a monopoly on political power, everyone with ambition has to be in it. So the CCP includes people of every ideological hue, from hardcore Marxists to free market libertarians.

        Yeah, but the one thing they all have in common is nationalism, racism, and xenophobia.

        Don't think for a second that if you're just nice to them they'll treat you fairly. They onl

    • Re:Why government? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Luckyo (1726890) on Sunday March 17, 2013 @10:28AM (#43196993)

      What, you think their Western counterparts are better?

      Reality is, these Chinese companies are learning FROM Western companies. And they're just starting, I'm fully expecting them to go full Bhopal on us eventually.

      And you know what? For what we did to them for last couple of centuries, it would hard as hell to argue that they're somehow worse then us and not appear both stupid and hypocritical at the same time.

      • Re:Why government? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Concerned Onlooker (473481) on Sunday March 17, 2013 @10:38AM (#43197037) Homepage Journal

        What we did to them? While I fully believe the US is culpable for the woes of many places in the world I think the greatest enemy of the Chinese is the Chinese. The US didn't support Mao and the US was not complicit in the building of a police state in China.

        • Re:Why government? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Luckyo (1726890) on Sunday March 17, 2013 @11:01AM (#43197185)

          I wasn't talking about US. It's quite interesting that you inferred that particular country from the thread talking about companies.

          Western companies have long since evolved to be "multinational" to avoid being too vulnerable to influence of any single country.

          • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Sunday March 17, 2013 @12:01PM (#43197489)

            Western companies have long since evolved to be "multinational" to expand their markets.

            FTFY.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by fredprado (2569351)
              A company does not need to be multinational to be in the global market. Being multinational gives you some advantages in this but it is not necessary by any means.

              On the other hand, the real motive to go multinational is being able to evade taxes, use cheaper labor, and evade inconvenient laws.
              • Nonsense. Corporations that are not multinational will have a very difficult time competing against locals outside their base markets.

                Without the actual presence in a market you cannot really grasp what products will be attractive.

                It is EXACTLY this reason that US companies failed for so long getting accepted in Japan.

                The idea that it has anything to do with taxes or legal issues is not at all true except perhaps in the financial industry.

                • Not true. Most companies are not multinational and manage very well to compete in foreigner markets with considerably smaller costs by taking local partners, local distributers, etc.

                  Despite of anything your ignorance may tell you, the main reason to be multinational is to avoid restrictive laws, especially labor laws, and to evade taxes. Everything else are just excuses.
                • by Luckyo (1726890)

                  1. You're buying corporate bullshit as the real thing. That makes you the very definition of "stupid".
                  2. Vast majority of companies that manage to agree on significant tax breaks, legislation and so on in their home country do not go multinational. Even if they have to sell on a lot of markets. Good example of this is Nokia which sold pretty much world wide very successfully except for US/Canada/Japan, while never going multinational.
                  Multinationals usually need to dodge relevant legislation or other rules.

          • Re:Why government? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Solandri (704621) on Sunday March 17, 2013 @02:28PM (#43198177)
            There was no need to infer. You specifically referred to Bhopal, which was the Indian subsidiary of a U.S. company.

            Also, I disagree with your assertion that the Chinese are simply parroting what they learned from the West. I'm Asian, and the widespread Confucian ideals mean that it's very common for Asians to prioritize the group (be it family, company, or country) over the individual. What you see going on in Chinese companies is what happens when you take the Western concept of capitalism, and remove the West's strong sense of protecting individual liberties. Heck, the Chinese government's entire premise driving their rapid industrialization in the last 20 years is that by sacrificing protections for individual laborers, they can keep wages and costs artificially low, which will attract more foreign business and investments, thus allowing the country to modernize more quickly. That is, the needs of the country in the future mean the needs of the individuals today can be overlooked.
            • by rtb61 (674572)

              Psychopaths generally 1% of the population (generally 15% of the prison population globally), now that's whole of them of varying intellects and capabilities and their ain't no country in the world that escapes their predations. No need to point at one countries people being worse or better than another countries people, more realistically just look at how solidly the psychopaths at the top have locked in their power and control and how great the resistance to their activity is in the rest of the populatio

        • The US didn't support Mao and the US was not complicit in the building of a police state in China.

          What about:

          • The US didn't help the ROC to fight off the communists after WWII, causing the eventual change of power on the mainland
          • After China had successfully developed nuclear bombs, the US didn't defend ROC's membership in the UN Security Council but miserably missing during a key vote that turned the key membership to the PRC.
          • A few years later, a US Secretary of States and a President visited Mao during Cultural Revolution, period with a million times worse human rights violation, to ally them to fight f
          • by MightyYar (622222)

            China is a hell of a lot less scary today than the USSR was.

            • Nobody disputes that. And so it is justified? Just like we used to befriend Saddam Hussein for the same reason? We're not on moral high ground and our public and media wouldn't criticize their own country's actions much since it is unpatriotic and thus unwelcome. It is all rooted in selfishness and double standards.

              • by MightyYar (622222)

                My post wasn't meant to justify anything - I'm simply saying that the US will not befriend NK to undermine China, because China is not that scary. China of 2003 is not analogous to USSR of 1970.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        China has more reason to bear a grudge against European countries, who were there raping China long before the US (regrettably) joined in. The US at the very least used part of its Boxer Rebellion indemnity to establish Tsinghua University, and later aided the country against Japanese expansion through lend lease and volunteer fighters, and yet again after the Sino-Soviet split, oh and once more with Most Favored Trading Nation.

        What has Europe done to pay for its transgressions against China?

        • Re:Why government? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by SvnLyrBrto (62138) on Sunday March 17, 2013 @01:14PM (#43197853)

          > What has Europe done to pay for its transgressions against China?

          The generations that transgressed died off. The current generation has done nothing to them and should not be held to blame for the actions of old dead people to whom they happen to be related.

          I know it's a cultural thing in some places to hold generations-long grudges against people for the "sins of their fathers". But I've never understood it. And I'll never accept it. And if that's one area where I'm just culturally-insensitive, that's one insensitivity I can live with.

      • Speaking as a US citizen, you are of course alluding to the American blood spilled in china during WW2 helping to fight the japanese invaders?

        Besides, little things like representative democracy matter in the long run. China is a dictatorship and their history is no excuse for totalitarianism or aggressive behavior above and beyond normal competitiveness in the world of business. Illegal activity in western nations generally gets exposed by the press and corrected.

        In China it's state sanctioned.

    • Re:Why government? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MightyYar (622222) on Sunday March 17, 2013 @10:50AM (#43197095)

      IMHO, follow the money.

      I'd say it's even simpler than that. A classic method of deflecting criticism is to set up an external boogeyman. People are starting to demand employment rights from the government. The government could change, or they could set up some big, bad, foreign companies to take the rap.

      The only surprise is that they didn't choose a Japanese corporation. Oh, wait, they did... [nytimes.com]

    • Re:Why government? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by icebike (68054) on Sunday March 17, 2013 @11:20AM (#43197277)

      A lot of Chinese companies are real s**ts, and a lot of Chinese companies make their own Android handsets.

      IMHO, follow the money. It will be paid for troll turf from one of the China handset makers.

      Also why do you think the Chinese government is some sort of magic all seeing, all acting entity? Realistically they want to project that image, but part of the reason China is such a wild west is because the Chinese government is so corrupt and no-seeing.

      That's why companies like this don't fear smear tactics. Because they can always pay a bribe and walk away.

      If you ask me its it's no different than the fawning western press suddenly showing up with Apple articles when any other phone manufacturers release new phones. With nothing new on the table or in the product pipeline, you can count on at least a half dozen stories showing up in newspapers, websites, and blogs when ever Apple feels a little bit left out or needs some good news to counter some new product push from some random Android manufacturer.

      Convince me these don't start with a phonecall from apple headquarters, or an email marked confidential, listing story "ideas" and a "must be published by" date.

      If anything this is probably the Chinese government or some manufacturer taking a card out of Apple's playbook and doing it poorly.

      What goes around, comes around.

      • by longk (2637033)

        There's one important difference though: western media participates in these games because it makes them money, gets them contracts, etc. These Chinese celebrities are more likely to be strong-armed into cooperating than rewarded with a handsome sum of money.

        • And how exactly do you know that?
      • Re:Why government? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by BasilBrush (643681) on Sunday March 17, 2013 @01:05PM (#43197801)

        There is no limit to the paranoia of Fandroids.

      • by Inda (580031)
        Rory, chief technology editor (ha!) from the BBC is guilty of this.

        No one is immune.
    • by the_B0fh (208483)

      Uh, if you follow the money, Peter Ho is a paid spokesperson for Samsung...

      • Re:Why government? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by sessamoid (165542) on Sunday March 17, 2013 @09:42PM (#43200383)

        Uh, if you follow the money, Peter Ho is a paid spokesperson for Samsung...

        I'm amazed that this very important fact hasn't been mentioned or discussed at all in the comments except by the parent post. Follow the money trail? It probably ends at Samsung, a company that spends more on marketing and advertising than Apple by around a factor of 10.

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      A lot of Chinese companies are real s**ts, and a lot of Chinese companies make their own Android handsets.

      IMHO, follow the money. It will be paid for troll turf from one of the China handset makers.

      True, but a big part is companies like Apple making it unprofitable to manufacture in China anymore with their "supplier codes of conduct" and such.

      One thing I've learned about Chinese companies is they're extremely capitalistic - screwing people over is just par for the course (if they were smarter, they won't l

  • by jnmontario (865369) on Sunday March 17, 2013 @09:50AM (#43196805)
    Frankly, nothing China does surprises me anymore. Rather, I think the surprising thing is that people don't want to accept massive manipulation of product presence online by transnationals and major corporations that do exactly what China is being accused of here.
    • by Nerdfest (867930)

      Yep. Sony has been doing it forever, and Microsoft seems to have become a big fan of it lately as well. FaceBook was actually caught doing it against Google.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jhoegl (638955)
      The difference is the manipulation is Corp vs Corp, with traces and links to sub corps or hired PR firms. Where in China... anyone with seemingly no links or reason will start crap.
      Wait a minute... Is China the most epic troll Country in the world?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    China and Apple have the same mentality:

    We know what is best for you, and we will not give you any choice about that.

    They're cut from the same mold.

    • by dpidcoe (2606549)

      China and Apple have the same mentality:

      We know what is best for you, and we will not give you any choice about that.

      There can only be one!

    • by DavidinAla (639952) on Sunday March 17, 2013 @02:26PM (#43198159)
      This is one of the most idiotic comments ever posted here, but some people hate Apple so much that it's currently modded as "insightful." To compare Apple to a totalitarian government isn't just ignorant, but it's offensive, not offensive to Apple or its customers, but to the millions and millions of people around the world who truly DON'T have a choice. If you don't like what Apple sells, you simply don't buy the product. If you want something other than what they Chinese government allows you to have, you can be put into prison or killed for asking for it. In a market economy, you have choices. Whatever Apple makes in a category is a choice. You have others. If you truly think you have no choice because Apple provides A DIFFERENT CHOICE THAN THE ONE YOU WANT, you're an idiot and a fool.
      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        Calm down dude. He was just pointing out the similar philosophy, nothing more.

        Fanboys over reacting is the primary reason why we can't have a good debate about this stuff.

        • by DavidinAla (639952) on Sunday March 17, 2013 @11:24PM (#43200709)
          If you think that a government that kills and imprisons people for wanting to choose something different is a "similar philosophy" to a company which makes a product in a way that you wouldn't choose, you're as stupid as he is. That's the whole freaking point. It's not a "similar philosophy." One philosophy is, "You will do what we tell you." The other is, "Here's what we think is the best product possible; we want you to choose to buy it."
  • Foxconn (Score:4, Insightful)

    by udachny (2454394) on Sunday March 17, 2013 @10:07AM (#43196899) Journal

    Apple production facilities are in China already, aren't they? Foxconn if I am not mistaken? If Chinese GOVERNMENT wanted to hurt Apple, they'd start there.

    This is not government by itself, this is some competitor using his ties to the government channels maybe?

    • Re:Foxconn (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 17, 2013 @10:32AM (#43197013)

      If the government went after the Apple-Foxconn relationship, it would be obvious that they want to hurt Apple, which would draw condemnation. They don't want that; they want a groundswell of "the little people" patriotically choosing to boycott Apple in order to hurt Apple. This is the entire purpose of Astroturfing -- altering public perception WITHOUT being obvious.

    • Re:Foxconn (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Sunday March 17, 2013 @11:12AM (#43197231)

      "If Chinese GOVERNMENT wanted to hurt Apple, they'd start there."

      It's government all right. And no, they most definitely would NOT start there.

      The Chinese government is a crowd of sneaky back-stabbers. They want our business, but they also want to steal all our secrets. So they leave the businesses (mainly) alone, at least to our faces. Then they hack and grab when they think we aren't looking.

      It's far past time we dropped China as a Most Favored Nation trading partner, and brought our manufacturing back home.

      • by gtall (79522)

        Given a bit more time, machines will make China's population irrelevant to producing widgets. When that happens, it will be cheaper for U.S. manufacturers to produce in the U.S. It won't necessarily increase employment by a big whack in the U.S., but it will make securing designs and company secrets easier and also make manufacturing more flexible.

      • Plenty of cheap labour outside of Asia.

        If on-shoring isn't feasible, perhaps US companies could look to their own region. e.g. stimulating a tech sector in central america.

      • by russotto (537200)

        It's far past time we dropped China as a Most Favored Nation trading partner, and brought our manufacturing back home.

        Most Favored Nation status has not existed for about 15 years. The status is now called Normal Trade Relations, and there are only two countries (Cuba and North Korea) which do not have it.

        • "Most Favored Nation status has not existed for about 15 years."

          Well, I have read it in the news a lot more recently than 15 years ago, so maybe the news sources were behind the times.

          But regardless of labels, we have done China many economic favors (in terms of outsourcing, even if you ignore anything else), and in turn they have done pretty much as I stated: stabbed us in the back.

          As far as I am concerned, these days, any corporation offshoring their manufacturing just to save a buck is declaring themselves an enemy of the American economy, and therefore America

    • by ikaruga (2725453)
      If the Chinese government directly or indirectly intervenes with Apple production lines in China, sure they can damage Apple. But that would also scare the crap out of pretty much every other foreign company which will probably resulting in them moving away from China. Without foreign business, China economy crumble. Such a move will be suicide for China. If the Chinese want to disrupt Apple(or any other major company) business, they must be as subtle as possible.
    • by khb (266593)

      Perhaps it is retribution for the previously announced Apple intent to 'in-shore' some manufacturing (on top of the already cited government industry competitor ties).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 17, 2013 @10:17AM (#43196931)

    I've studied Chinese history extensively (even have my Bachelor's in it). While I would not put it past the Chinese government to do this, at the same time it's a complete and total fallacy to assume that a totalitarian government akin to the Chinese one can stay in power without the strong support of a sizable minority and the tacit support or disinterest of the majority of people. Generally my experience with the Chinese shows that there are 1-3 out of every ten that support the government's actions, which is typically enough to keep them in power as long as the remaining 7 are apathetic.

    Also, the Government is facing an existential crisis. They've built their legitimacy to rule on the idea that they could keep growing and prosper, and it worked as they built an export economy built on cheap labor. Now with the global economic downturn they've been unable to maintain the steady job growth, while at the same time many Chinese are prospering and looking for more than just a low paying factory job. They're trying to build a consumer economy but that shift takes time, so they've turned to nationalism instead to redirect any dissension in the populace outwards instead of inwards; see the whole Senkaku island spat between China and Japan. This is another example of it; they're turning their people ever so slightly against America to help unify them.

    • by longk (2637033)

      1-3? Living in China for 7+ years now I can tell you that probably more than 90% of them support the government. Sure they'll bitch and moan about their leades, but if you ask them which system they would prefer (China, US or something European) they're sticking to the Chinese system.

      IMHO, this is no different from most western countries. We complain about our governments but very few of us would opt for the system of another country, even if that system is fairly similar to ours.

      • They have no experience of another system of government and most people are conservative. It's just like Americans being fearful of "socialised" medicine - unless they've spent enough time in Europe to get to know another system.
    • by gtall (79522)

      "This is another example of it; they're turning their people ever so slightly against America to help unify them." While that is true, I doubt it will be as effective as it has been in the past. My sense is that the internet causes tripwires for manipulation, people don't like being manipulated and when there are other sources of information that what is spewed from government, government spew tends to look dumb. The Chinese people, if what I read currently is correct, are already establishing a sort of und

      • This reminds me of the system for translating Pravda:

        Fraternal discussions - nobody got hurt
        Friendly discussions - we're still at the talking phase
        Frank and friendly discussions - we told you to stop doing that, now stop doing it.
        Frank discussions - the tanks are rolling.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Let's move along. Post around 11:20 am.

  • by PPH (736903) on Sunday March 17, 2013 @10:28AM (#43196995)

    Back before e-mail, someone wrote a letter to the offices of some company, complaining about their product or service. A few days later, he received a nicely worded apologetic letter. Attached to the letter was the post-it note, written by the recipient in the company which read, "Send this son-of-a-bitch our standard apology form letter."

  • In other news polar bears are suspected of causing global warming. You heard it here first slashdot. In case some how it is proven 100's of years from now.
  • by Gadget27 (1931378) on Sunday March 17, 2013 @10:48AM (#43197085)
    This has to be the third or fourth story I read in recent weeks where someone made a post or tweet that was either inappropriately worded, or outright incorrect for its purpose, as this one looks to be. In all these cases, the account owners shrug it off as their account being hacked, as if it's something so common it happens to all of us weekly, in order to cover their ass.
    It seems 'my account got hacked' is quickly becoming the 21st century 'my dog ate my homework' bullshit excuse. Let's just be sure not to forget the 'bullshit' part of that.
    • by Jeremi (14640)

      account owners shrug it off as their account being hacked, as if it's something so common it happens to all of us weekly

      From what I've read, in China it may well happen to people weekly. Talk about a festering hellhole of information insecurity... between the government hacking corps, the theft and physical bugging of laptops, the Great Firewall of China, and the industrial espionage and corruption, I'm surprised any computing gets done there at all. :^P

    • by icebike (68054)

      Except that accounts DO get hacked on a massive scale and passwords are stolen by the millions.
      Read the news.

      What possible reason is there for stealing twitter accounts or Facebook accounts other than for mischief?

    • Why bother hiring expensive celebrity astroturfers when your hacker sweatshop can get the same result for 1/20th the cost?

      You get the occasional 'Need to post this by 8:20' slips, but hey, you get what you pay for.

  • 50 Cent Brigade (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The Chinese Communist Party has a group of people (mostly off-duty journalists, students, and such) called the 50 Cent Brigade. They pay them the equivalent of 50 cents every time they post a comment online to sway public opinion in the direction of the Party. This group probably isn't involved with the celebrities posting stuff on Twtitter, but the intention would be the same. Keep in mind that "Perception Management" is a big thing for the Chinese Communist Party--it's why they keep the entire country's m

  • Who am I supposed to be rooting for here? If they dual to the death is it a win-win-win?
  • It may seem like it but Apple doesn't need China. Even with the stock buy back and dividends Apple has over 110 billion in the bank. Building their own factories and moving back to the US or a friendlier country would slightly reduce their massive profits. The good will could actually increase sales enough to offset the costs if they moved back to the US. Unless they think of something to do with the money they will likely have in excess of 200 billion in the bank by 2020. They could easily finance 10 missi
  • So, the Chinese government is new to this. Companies and governments in the West are much better at recruiting each other and the people to do their propagandistic bidding for them.

  • Enough is enough. Time for a tariff on all the crap that China is dumping on us. It would solve the budge crisis and bring industry back to the US.

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