HUA HIN, Thailand - Apple products have become status symbols in China, so as
the burgeoning population clamors for more iPhones and iPads the counterfeit
black market expands at an unprecedented rate to fulfill the needs of the
tech-hungry masses there and elsewhere in Asia.
Knock-off iPhones are available in shopping malls in Thailand, for example, at
around 20% of the cost of the genuine article.
Even so, Apple has not been very active in the battle against piracy of its own
products, according to a cable released by WikiLeaks this week .
A document from the United States Embassy in Beijing dated
September 2008 stated that the California-based tech giant organized a team to
respond to the rampant counterfeiting of its products in March of the same
year. Three years later, little has been achieved, and pirated products are as
prevalent as ever.
The hunger for Apples in China cannot be quashed by the country's only genuine
Apple Stores in Shanghai and Beijing, so wily entrepreneurs have been churning
out phony phones, plastic pads and even creating their own fake Apple stores
elsewhere in the People's Republic (see
Apple harvest doubles, Asia Times Online, July 23, 2011).
According to the cable, factories in mainland China were exporting enough
counterfeits by the end of 2008 to single-handedly supply the world with
The report goes on to say that gadget piracy isn't a high priority for the
Chinese government. The authorities appear to be directing all of their
energies into Internet censorship and control of information flow; however,
this issue was not addressed in this particular cable.
The document also highlighted Apple's typically furtive approach to anything
even remotely critical of its operations; "Low-profile raids are a good option
for Apple, a company that wants to stay away from too much publicity
surrounding this issue."
Apple has remained characteristically silent on the issue, and interestingly
removed an application from its online store in December that allows users to
browse WikiLeaks documents on their iPhones or iPads.
The counterfeit versions at least offer a cheap alternative when the real thing
persistently flashes the message "Unable to restore iPhone - error 28" after it
is accidentally damaged or otherwise breaks down (neither the genuine product
nor the fake phones, for example, can swim).
Another app that has been removed from Apple's online store this week is the
Financial Times, although this deletion was not at the heavy hand of the
Cupertino tech giant. The battle for control of customer subscription data has
been lost by the United Kingdom-based newspaper as Apple insists that all
subscriptions are made through its own App Store.
The FT yanked the app after negotiations broke down; it did not agree to giving
Apple a 30% cut of revenues from its digital subscribers or all of the
associated customer profile information. Apple's subscription service for
magazines, newspapers, music and video has won little support from major
publishers due to its inequitable demands for control of data and revenue.
More scrutiny of Apple's Chinese operations has come this week as environmental
groups renewed accusations that the company's suppliers were releasing highly
toxic materials and causing health problems to locals. A coalition of
environmental organizations released a 46-page report on Wednesday that stated
27 of Apple's suppliers had severe pollution problems.
The Chinese Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, where the report was
published, claimed that in one instance, pollution from a factory owned by the
Taiwanese information technology giant Foxconn in northern Shanxi province was
so bad that locals sometimes could not open their windows.
It said Apple had decided to "take advantage of loopholes" in developing
countries' environmental management systems to "grab super profits".
The fruity company never fails to stay out of the tech headlines, this week
being no exception as yet another prototype iPhone is rumored to have gone
missing in a bar. The cynical among us would believe that these employee
"misplacements" of highly guarded products are an intentional ploy by Apple to
stir up attention before a major launch, in this case the iPhone 5 in a few
Sony has finally entered the tablet business with a statement that its goal is
to become the biggest player in Japan's growing market for Android tablets. Two
new Android-powered tablets offer a number of features that others, including
the all-dominating iPad, lack.
A folding clamshell unit known only as the Sony P tablet offers two screens and
access to some first generation PlayStation games. The single-screen S tablet
also functions as a universal remote with a built-in infrared transmitter.
Sony is attempting to break the mould in a very crowded market place and offer
something a little different to the standard tablet format that Apple seems to
think it has complete ownership of. Pricing may be the digital hurdle for the
Japanese electronics company as the two units don't come cheap, starting at
In the latest in a string of Internet security breaches, hackers have
manipulated digital certificates that verify the authenticity of websites and
posed as Google to snoop on web users in Iran.
A Dutch Internet company, DigiNotar, that issues these Secure Socket Layer web
certificates, was hacked in July by an unknown group that managed to acquire
fraudulent certificates and then pass them off as if it were Google. The
objective was to spy on users in Iran of Google Mail, Docs and Plus. Security
company F-Secure stipulated that the attack was likely to have originated from
the government of Iran to monitor dissidents.
Google is investigating the breach and browser-makers Mozilla and Microsoft are
updating their security alert systems to spot fraudulent certificates. Users of
Google's Chrome browser would have been protected from the attack as the
browser would have recognized the security certificate was fake.
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.