A Chinese celebrity has slammed Apple on Sina Weibo, China's answer to Twitter. However, reports suggest that China's government run TV channel had paid for the celebrity tweet, which followed a 'Consumer Rights Day' report on Chinese government run television CCTV.
The celebrity post, which it has emerged was scheduled to be sent at 8.20pm in conjunction with the show, is thought to have been part of a coordinated attack on Apple. The 8.20 timing has lead to reports referring to the "820 Party".
There are various suggestions as to why China's government might want to encourage anti-Apple sentiment, from lack of advertising to concern about smartphones spreading dissent.
Did China attack Apple?
In a programme for China's Consumer Rights Day, Apple was attacked for treating Chinese consumers worse than consumers in other countries. The investigative special on the "3.15" show aired late on Friday.
The programme claimed that Apple is breaking Chinese law by not replacing damaged iPhones with a completely new model. It maintained that Apple replaces parts of the iPhone but returns it with the old phone’s back cover. This means that Apple considers the replacement iPhone to be the same phone, and therefore it comes under the original one-year warranty. The programme also highlighted that Chinese law requires two-year warranties, and Apple’s only offers a one-year warranty.
In a statement, published by Reuters, Apple China said: "Our team is always striving to exceed our customers' expectations, and we take any customer concerns very seriously."
The suggestion is that this government lead programme was intended to trigger a backlash against Apple and the celebrity tweet led Chinese site, Tea Leaf Nation (which no longer seems to be operating) to suggest that CCTV offered to pay Chinese celebrities to post the Apple-hating tweets.
Chinese celebrity Peter Ho criticized Apple on Weibo. However, Ho's 'tweet' revealed that his Apple-criticising message wasn't all that it seemed.
He wrote: “Cannot believe Apple is playing so many dirty tricks in customer service. As an Apple fan, I feel hurt. Won’t you [Apple] feel ashamed in front of Steve Jobs? Won’t you feel ashamed in front of those young people who sell their kidneys for your products? You dare to bully consumers simply because you are a famous brand. Need to post around 8:20 pm.”
It is the "need to post around 8.20pm" bit that convinced Weibo users that he had been instructed to post the tweet. According to CultofMac, the hashtag #PostAround820 went viral on Weibo.
Ho later clamed that his account had been hacked.
Why would China's government target Apple?
So why would CCTV attempt to create anti-Apple sentiment in the country? One theory is that the Chinese government run station was trying to blackmail Apple in to advertising, notes Cult of Mac.
A Chinese blog (which is still online, for now) criticises CCTV, saying: "You cannot use public power to make targeted strikes against those who aren’t your major advertisers." There is a complete transcript of the blog here.
Another suggestion is that the Chinese government is trying to discredit Apple in a similar way to what they did to Google. Cult of Mac recalls that Google (and other US companies) were hacked by groups in China believed to be connected with the Chinese army. Google claimed that its intellectual property (specifically its search algorithms) was stolen in the attacks, as were details of pro-democracy and pro-Tibet advocates email accounts.
The result was that Google left China, writes Cult of Mac. That report also notes that a New York Times report highlighted that Wikileaks had published information that suggested that the Chinese government was "increasingly alarmed" by the fact that Google searchers within China were granting access to data on Chinese leaders. The government was said to be concerned about its lack of control with regards to the internet.
The Cult of Mac report also highlights what a great tool for democracy (and spreading dissent) the smartphone could be, and indicates that this may be what China is uncomfortable with in the case of Apple.
No doubt China's government would like to have access to what its citizens are sharing via their smart phones.
The report also suggests that Apple is drawing negative attention to Foxconn's factories, which isn't good for China.
Apple isn't the only company to have been targeted in China recently. As we wrote at the time, earlier this month, China signaled it wishes to reduce its dependence on Google's Android OS, alleging that the company has discriminated against local firms over the use of the mobile operating system.