On March 15, which commemorated World Consumer Rights Day, China Central Television Station (CCTV), the country's state-owned TV broadcasting network, aired its annual investigative program that unveiled a series of anti-consumer practices conducted by well-known companies.
The program spotlighted Apple this year, which claimed Cupertino was treating Chinese consumers with discrimination with regard to its after-sales service policy.
Unlike other countries where consumers will get a refurbished iPhone if their original one is found to be defective during the warranty period, consumers in China--which constitutes Apple's second-largest market globally--get a refurbished iPhone with the back cover from the original phone, according to CCTV. For a new back cover, they need to pay an extra 580 yuan (US$92), it added.
The broadcaster also claimed in the program Apple refuses to adhere to local regulations to offer consumers the full warranty period upon fixing the phone, instead choosing to follow the original warranty timeframe.
The report got an immediate reply from Apple on the same night, but it was a non-statement. In a BBC report, Apple said: "Our team has been working to surpass the expectations of consumers, and highly values the opinions and suggestions from every consumer."
Twist in the tale
What happened after the program was aired provided another twist to the tale, though. A number of well-known public figures and celebrities took to Sina Weibo to criticize Apple following CCTV's program, but one posting from Taiwan-based singer and actor Peter Ho hinted that the whole online campaign was pre-planned.
Ho posted: "It turns out Apple played so many tricks on its after-sales service. As an Apple fan, I feel hurt. Do you think such policies will have been approved by Steve Jobs? How about the young people who sold a kidney just to get an iPhone? Apple bullies the consumers as it is a dominant player in the market! Distribute the message at around 8.20 pm."
The last sentence, which he clearly forgot to delete before posting, showed that Ho was notified in advance to criticize Apple when the program was being shown. Chinese netizens also found that similar messages on Sina Weibo by of other celebrities were also posted around 8.20 pm.
But in a subsequent post on Sina Weibo, Ho then declared his account was hacked and he reported the case to the police.
Ho was also found in a Samsung Galaxy S3 advertisement by Chinese netizens. Some Chinese netizens suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that he was working undercover for Apple, rather than Samsung, since his "mistake" successfully diverted the public's attention from the South Korean giant's launch of its flagship Galaxy S4 smartphone on the same day.