Samsung admits paying students to lambast rival phones in fake web reviews


How low could Samsung go? Apparently as low as hiring students to post fake web reviews that criticize phones by rival HTC. The Seoul, South Korea-headquartered conglomerate is now being probed by fair-trade officials in Taiwan over the scandalous accusations, BBC News reported Thursday.

Samsung on its part confirmed the “unfortunate incident,” arguing it had gone against its “fundamental principles.” The inevitable question arises: are some of those pro-Android thread commentators we see on iDB and many other Apple-focused publications also being paid to pooh-pooh Apple, regardless of the article being discussed?

That’s the conjecture offered by my former boss and founder Jonny Evans.

He wrote in today’s post over at Computerworld that Samsung talking “fundamental principles” flies both against its past actions and the admission it paid students to criticize HTC phones.

If it’s prepared to mount such a campaign against HTC, then why would it not have also launched such activity against other competitors? Has it been engaged in such activity in its campaign against Apple?

There is no way I can claim or prove any connection between Samsung’s marketing activity against HTC in Taiwan and comments against other manufacturers posted outside of that country.

However, Samsung’s admission of complicity within this case sure makes it extraordinarily easy to think it possible it has been paying people to engage in online attacks against all its competitors.

According to BBC News, Samsung’s Taiwan subsidiary confirmed via its  local Facebook page it had “ceased all marketing activities that involve the posting of anonymous comments,” adding that “the recent incident was unfortunate, and occurred due to insufficient understanding of these fundamental principles.”

The company is now planning training for employees to ensure events were not repeated.

Should Taiwan’s Fair Trade Commission find Samsung guilty of engaging in “false advertising”, the company along with its local agent could be fined up to of 25 million Taiwanese dollars, or approximately $837,000.

HTC One (lifestyle 003)
Samsung admitted paying students to bad-mouth HTC phones

As for Evans’ assessment, he hit the nail on the head.

Evidently, Samsung did not change the game with technology or product.

The iPhone remains the best-selling smartphone brand bar none.

Samsung, of course, eclipses Apple in terms of units sales because it carpet-bombs the market with dozens of smartphone models offered in many shapes, sizes and price points, whereas Apple only has its iPhone which rules the profits game.

But by outspending Apple substantially in smartphone marketing, choosing to target Apple in advertising and focusing on widening its distribution footprint, Samsung indeed has “changed the game on Apple,” a Forbes writer recently observed.

Never mind that the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5 are the world’s two most popular smartphones, or that Apple’s smartphone recently topped JD Power’s satisfaction rankings for ninth consecutive study – Samsung remains maniacally focused on changing the public’s perception on Apple and hoping sales would eventually follow.

Samsung Life-affirming chip in Yongin
Samsung’s mission statement imprinted on an oversized chip outside its Yongin, Seoul complex.

Former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassee recently warned Apple may be losing the war on words:

“Besides its ads, Apple says very little, confident numbers will do the talking,” he wrote on his Monday Note blog a month ago. “This no longer works as others have seized the opportunity to drive the narrative.”

He also predicted Samsung’s snafu with paid fake reviews, cautioning that “attacking competitors, pointing to their weaknesses, and trumpeting one’s achievements is better done by hired media assassins.”

Paying others to spread lies about your competitors’ products may not be illegal, but consumers are not stupid and are capable of figuring out truth from the lies.

In my view, Samsung has shot itself in the foot and its own admission of guilt, while a welcomed move, won’t do any good to its already tarnished brand.

Imagine if Apple paid students to sing praises to its iPhone or bad-mouth Galaxy devices.