China's State-Run Anti-Apple Campaign Backfires
Today in international tech news: Chinese netizens wonder if celebrities were bribed to support an Apple-bashing state-run TV program; Eric Schmidt heads back to Asia; Apple relents on its too-short Australian warranties; and a researcher unearths the world's spammiest ISPs.
March 15 marks Consumer Rights Day in China. To honor the day, state-run CCTV runs a special program to out scams, malpractice and defective products.
This year, CCTV set its crosshairs on Apple, declaring that the company downgraded post-sale customer service to Chinese consumers. The network claimed when Chinese customers return iPhones for repairs, the devices are returned with the original back cover; in other countries, Apple replaces everything.
Things got hairy for CCTV, however, when Hong Kong movie star Peter Ho posted a message to China's Twitter-like platform, Sina Weibo: "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 send out at about 8:20 p.m."
The Apple-bashing intensified. At exactly 8:20, a famous children's author posted, "I'm very shocked after learning about Apple's double-standard customer service in China versus in other markets. Hope the bite on Apple doesn't take away its heart."
Then, at 8:23, another Weibo heavy, who has more than 3 million followers, posted a similar Apple-bashing nugget, signing off, "You are an American company that promotes fair play, so why are you practicing double standard in China? You are in big trouble."
The symmetry of the posts, to say nothing of the undeleted reminder to post at 8:20, set off conspiracy theories that Sina Weibo and CCTV had bribed the celebrities -- two of whom, incidentally, used Apple products to make their posts.
Netizens then began pointing out myriad other consumer rights problems -- poisonous baby powder, for instance, or the thousands of pigs floating in a major Chinese river.
"8:20" has since become a meme on Chinese Internet forums.
Eric Schmidt Heading Back to Asia
On the heels of his January trip to North Korea, Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman, is now planning a trip to Myanmar later this week.
Schmidt would become the first high-profile tech exec to visit the country since the U.S. eased sanctions on the nation last fall.
In 2011, Myanmar's military loosened its grip on the country, allowing a quasi-civilian government to take over. The changes have spurred interest from overseas companies, and tech companies in particular stand to gain: Out of 60 million citizens, mobile penetration in the country is estimated to be only 5 to 10 percent.
Combine that with the country's plans to modernize its technology infrastructure, and Myanmar figures to be a growth market in coming years.
Schmidt is slated to speak at the Myanmar Information and Communication Technology Park on Friday, and will then meet with senior government officials.
In February, a U.S. Agency for International Development-led delegation -- which included reps from Cisco, Google, HP, Intel and Microsoft -- visited Myanmar. Schmidt's trip is significant, though, because of his standing at Google.
Myanmar is reportedly offering two operating licenses for companies to build the nation a new telecom infrastructure. MTN Group, Africa's top mobile company, is reportedly among those bidding for a license.
Schmidt is visiting several Asian countries, according to a statement from Google. After Myanmar, it is off to India.
[Source: The New York Times]
Apple Relents, Extends Australia Warranties
In Australia, a change to Apple's internal policy will effectively extend the warranty on iPhones, iPads and Macs to two years.
Apple's default warranty is 12 months, but there have long been complaints that policy conflicts with Australian consumer law, which requires warranties to cover items for a "reasonable" period of time.
This might not be such a big deal but for the steep price of extending warranties on Apple products. (Extended warranties for a Mac Book Air, for instance, can cost nearly A$300.)
Apple employees, however, are reportedly being told to stay mum: An email circulated within an Australian Apple store told staff not to discuss the details of the new warranty policy with customers.
Apple has gotten in trouble for the brevity of its warranties elsewhere, as well: Italy and Belgium, for instance, have threatened Apple with fines for not complying with customer-protection policies.
[Source: Fairfax Media]
Unearthing Spam Hotspots
A researcher in the Netherlands has published a study suggesting that about half of the world's junk email comes from just 20 Internet service providers.
The study looked at more than 40,000 ISPs and tried to unearth the "bad neighborhoods" that peddle spam. Many of these neighbourhoods are located in India, Vietnam and Brazil. (A separate report last year also pegged India as a spam hotspot.)
On one particularly spammy network, Nigeria's Spectranet, 62 percent of all addresses were sending out junk emails, according to the report.