updated 01:43 am EDT, Tue March 26, 2013
Part of strange campaign against foreign-owned companies
China's government may be nervous that the population's growing dependence on foreign-made products could undermine its control, and has recently embarked on a state-run media campaign against large western corporations that dominate the commercial landscape in urban China, including recent attacks on Apple. Though a recent social networking "whisper campaign" against the iPhone maker backfired badly, the smear campaign continues in the Communist Party-run People's Daily newspaper.
The paper posted a front-page article on Monday that accused Apple of declining journalists' requests for interviews, and saying the company's response to the "consumer-oriented" report from a state-run TV show was "empty and self-praising." The attacks appear to be motivate by either corruption (in the form of bribery from a smartphone rival) or a misguided attempt to blackmail Apple into doing more advertising on state-run media. Another possibility is that the government in China is attempting to shift allegiance amongst the people to Chinese-based smartphone providers, even as it prepares to pass legislation that would mandate that smartphones pass along data on application usage and other data to authorities.
The state may be trying a crude method of boosting local smartphone makers, including Lenovo, Huawei and ZTE -- the latter two of whom have been cited by US authorities as offering products that may pose a security risk to government users. The crux of the complaints in media reports appears to center mostly around easily-disproven information. During the Sina Weibo debacle, celebrities parroting talking points made on a "consumer" TV show said that Chinese Apple buyers only get one year of warranty compared to two years in the US, which is incorrect.
The People's Daily attack centered around the notion that in China, Apple will repair broken iPhones rather than replace them with new phones "as it does in the US" -- seemingly unaware that replacement iPhones are usually refurbished, not new -- and ignoring Apple's statement that repairs are done with new parts (though Apple does replace the back plate with the original, which is often customized with the name of the buyer) . On Saturday, Apple posted a statement on its website saying that it took customer service in China very seriously, clarifying the repair policy, reminding buyers that the company provides a 90-day warranty on repairs -- three times longer than the 30 days required by Chinese law -- and ending by saying that Apple warranties are more or less the same in China as they are in the US and "all over the world."
While Chinese warranties do appear to be very similar to US warranties, in fact Apple does have significantly different coverage in Italy and Australia, along with some other EU countries -- due to laws in those areas that require Apple to extend the original warranty to two years rather than the default one year. Apple has fought against the mandate vigorously but has so far had little success in persuading authorities that its standard one-year warranty is more comprehensive and generous than the deal it can offer consumers with an EU two-year warranty. Italian and other EU Mac users have noted that the EU warranties are rarely honored past the first year, since they put the burden of proof of compliance with warranty terms on the consumer and are routinely skirted around using loopholes.
Germany's Volkswagen and US fast-food vendor Yum Brands (known best in China for its KFC franchise) have also been attacked. McDonald's was accused last year of serving hamburgers to customers that had been dropped on the floor in what was later seen as a fairly transparent attempt to get McDonald's to give the TV channel making the accusations more advertising money. Since the discovery that social networks and other outlets are being used to baselessly attack companies for political or possibly financial motivations, the credibility of state-run media outlets has plummeted -- and younger and more technologically-savvy users have promoted critical comments, exposés of smear campaigns and other anti-establishment sentiments to counter the government's propaganda campaigns.
Apple may not be the only tech company that is likely to come under attack from the government. The Wall Street Journal reports that a white paper written by a Chinese government think tank claimed that the country was "too reliant" on Google's Android OS and said the search giant was using its dominance to discriminate against Chinese manufacturers. The government has also said it plans to change some certification rules, making it more difficult for foreign companies to get their smartphones to market in China quickly, and even legislation that would force smartphone makers to assist China's government to identify specific users.