Samsung fined $340,000 over faking negative web comments about competition

Samsung Galaxy S4 ad (Iceland 002)

Throughout last year, Apple-friendly web sites were infested with an avalanche of ugly comments by anonymous posters concerning the iPhone, iPad and the Apple brand in general. While website owners were reluctant to publicly point the finger of blame at the South Korean conglomerate, many had suspected it was no coincidence given Samsung was riding high on its anti-Apple ad campaign.

Conveniently, hate-spewing quickly died down after Taiwan’s Fair Trade Commission (FTC) in April launched an investigation into Samsung’s tactics following the company’s admission of guilt about, in its own words, the “unfortunate incident” which occurred “due to insufficient understanding”.

Though Samsung  said it had“ceased all marketing activities that involve the posting of anonymous comments,” the FTC – after finding Samsung indeed hired a “large number of hired writers and designated employees” to trash-talk competition in web comments – has now decided to slap the Galaxy maker with a $340,000 fine…

Though the FTC in a notice on its website does not mention Samsung’s competition by name, the Associated Press reported that Samsung was found guilt of organizing “an Internet campaign in violation of fair trade rules to praise Samsung smartphones while slamming those of HTC”.

The list of Samsung’s astroturfing activities, according to the Taiwanese trade body, includes the “disinfection of negative news about Samsung products,” “palindromic Samsung product marketing,” and more, reports The Verge.

The FTC also fined Samsung earlier this year over misleading ads about the Galaxy Y Duos GT-S6102 camera features. Today’s ruling is of little consolation to HTC.

The Taiwanese maker has just posted a loss in the September quarter after its global handset share plummeted from a high of 10.3 percent in the third quarter of 2011 to an unbelievably paltry 2.6 percent in the third quarter of 2013.

Samsung ad (iPhone 5 launch 001)

I should also note that there’s no concrete evidence in the FTC’s ruling that Samsung in fact paid students to lambast the iPhone in web comments.

That being said, it certainly stands to reason that the South Korean firm has probably engaged in such activity given the fierce rivalry with Apple, its legal troubles over copying iPhone technology and especially the fact that Samsung’s executives were OK with mounting such a campaign against HTC.

Last but not least, as Computerworlds’ Jonny Evans wrote back in April, “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”.

I’m sure it’s totally coincidental that we’ve been seeing a sharp decline in the frequency of hating on Apple in our own comments.