Samsung has been fined $340,000 for faking comments on the internet. The Fair Trade Commission in Taiwan levied the fine on the smartphone maker after it was revealed that it paid for internet comments that praised its products, and for those that disparaged them to be removed. The case has become a tool in the many debates between fans of the Korean firm and its biggest rival, Apple.
Because the case was in Taiwan, the case was linked to that country’s most famous phone maker, HTC. In the final report from the Taiwanese regulatory body HTC was not mentioned by name. The decision simply said that Samsung paid people to “highlight the shortcomings of competing products.” That was only one of the offenses that Samsung was charged with by the Trade Commission.
The decision also said that Samsung paid to have negative reviews removed, paying for positive coverage of Samsung products and something called “palindromic Samsung product marketing.” The practice of paying for comments is often called “astroturfing.”
Samsung is far from the first company to pay for praise on the internet, and it almost certainly will not be the last. The company is, however, locked in a bitter and crowd-pleasing feud with Apple. That means that this story will likely have legs where many others are just a curiosity. Apple fans will hold this court confirmed distortion against any trying to defend the South Korean electronics maker.
It is unclear how beneficial the astroturfing campaign was to Samsung, and what amount of money the company was spending on it in the first place. If it was less than the $340,000 it was charged in today’s decision, it probably wasn’t all that effective. If the campaign is deemed an effective one the company is unlikely to stop the practice.
Astroturfing exists in a kind of grey area because most of the claims being made are subjective. The cases have not been tested in most jurisdictions and there appears to be little appetite for it in recent years. This decision might spur more complaints, and a case could be seen in the United States at some point.