'Water army' whistleblower threatened

10:11, January 07, 2011      

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The secretary-general of the Mobile Internet Industry Alliance says he has received threats after alleging that long queues of people lining up to buy mobile phones from a store in Beijing were actually hired by the company to create a false image of the product's popularity.

Li Yi told the Global Times that he has received numerous mobile phone messages, including one that called him a "devil that should not exist in the world" after he made the allegations January 3.

In his microblog, Li alleged that people making up a 300-meter-long queue waiting to buy a mobile phone from the Meizu store in Sanlitun, Beijing, on New Year's Day had been paid to stand in line. He said the manufacturer spent 300,000 yuan ($ 45,275) for the "potential customers." Locals branded them a "water army," a term that refers to people who are hired to promote a product under the guise of being genuine customers.

He also accused the manufacturer of paying Internet users to write positive posts about the product online.
"I have been harassed by them since January 3 and my life is in turmoil now," Li said.

He believed that the messages were sent by people hired by the manufacturer, an accusa-tion the company has denied.

Li said that hiring online "water armies" was common.
"The more posts the Internet users put online, the more money they get," Li said.

Li said the phenomenon would lead to chaos on the Internet and cause undesirable competition.

He said an effective way to tackle the problem was to require those who write online posts to register under their real names.

The marketing director of Meizu was quoted by the Guangdong-based Time Weekly as saying that Li's allegations were ignorant and ridiculous.

Wang Chen, the head of the State Council Information Office (SCIO), said the government is aware of the practice of paying Internet users to post positive comments, and is considering ways to strengthen regulations to tackle the problem.

The central government has ordered the Ministry of Industry and Information Technolo-gy (MIIT) as well as the SCIO to launch a series of campaigns to crack down on such behavior.

By Ge Lili and Liu Tianjiao, Global Times

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