Samsung could face fines for online malice

Think teenage bullies are the only ones on the attack online? You’re wrong. In fact, Samsung’s latest trickery in Taiwan could prove to be grounds for a nasty lawsuit. The tech giant is battling some bad press as of late after it came to light that Samsung paid students to post negative comments about competitor HTC online.

Taiwan’s Fair Trade Commission has launched an investigation into the accusations, something the agency appears to be taking very seriously. Samsung could be fined up to $835,000 USD if found guilty of false advertising. A marketing firm working with Samsung could also be held liable for the shady online posts.

“The case was set up last week after we received complaints,” Fair Trade Commission spokesman Sun Lih-chyun told a French news agency.

Who outed Samsung and its alleged dirty tricks? It was Internet-savvy consumers who apparently took note of irregularities in online articles – specifically a string of articles and reviews that blasted HTC and boosted Samsung – and reported their findings to authorities.

So far, Samsung has taken the denial route, saying it knows nothing of the investigation and possible legal ramifications. But it did stick a brief statement on its Facebook page the other day that seems to be a vague response to the controversy.

“Samsung Electronics remains committed to engaging in transparent and honest communications with consumers as outlined in the company’s Online Communications Credo. We have encouraged all Samsung Electronics employees worldwide to remain faithful to our Credo. The recent incident was unfortunate, and occurred due to insufficient understanding of these fundamental principles,” the company posted.

It  has also suspended all marketing involving the posting of anonymous comments, which leads one to wonder just how often the company uses this tactic online. Samsung has also pledged to educate employees about acceptable practices to prevent such a situation in the future.

It should be noted that it takes two to tango and it’s not the first time Samsung and HTC have faced off. Earlier this year, HTC drew ire after it crashed Samsung’s Galaxy S 4 launch in New York City, chatting up its own products and handing out hot chocolate to people standing in line. While staff at the event didn’t fib about their competitors’ device, HTC did come out the next day slamming Samsung publicly.

Legal battles aside, Samsung’s alleged actions have raised eyebrows and rightfully so. The ethics of marketing can sometimes be murky, but blatantly misrepresenting oneself is a major faux pas. However, it’s something that probably happens more often than we realize. Whether the reward outweighs the risk has yet to be seen, though we know that when consumers find out they’ve been duped the backlash is often ugly and extreme. It will be interesting to see how this case unfolds.