Anti-Taobao Crusaders: Unfortunate Victims or Internet Terrorists?

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Before I jump into this post, I should point out that I am in a most foul mood, the result of my iPhone being ripped off last night while I was in the middle of a phone call. I am not exaggerating. Thieves are getting bold here in Beijing. Anyway, the psychological damage of having that much data stolen will undoubtedly take a few days to heal. Some venting may be on the way this week.

OK, on to the subject at hand, some dastardly individuals making life difficult for China’s largest e-commerce firm, Taobao. Here’s what’s going on, courtesy of Shanghai Daily:

Thousands of sellers have joined an online organization calling itself the “Anti-Taobao Alliance” and have been causing problems for other sellers by ordering all their goods and then canceling them after a few days, in the meantime making the goods unavailable for sale.

Some of them are also clicking repeatedly on the advertisements of other vendors on Taobao.com’s front page. Each click raises the price vendors have to pay for advertising. But the increased cost has caused many vendors to cancel their adverts, hitting the Chinese platform’s income.

Before we get into a discussion of why these folks are doing this stuff, I would like to point out that it doesn’t really matter. Nothing justifies that sort of juvenile, destructive behavior. Indeed, even if these people had actually been treated unfairly by Taobao or cheated in some way, their engaging in what is arguably fraudulent activities is way outside the pale of acceptable behavior. Whether or not this rises to the level of a criminal act is another story. Just for the record, I have no problem with peaceful protests like this one in Hangzhou, and there were demonstrations in other cities as well.

In the interest of fairness, let’s see what they have to say for themselves. According to one of the “protesters,” they are all just victims of a new rule implemented by Taobao in July that altered the way that search results were displayed. The hooligans say that this discriminates in favor of large vendors, while Taobao says that it has actually helped smaller shops and less experienced sellers.

Here’s another interpretation:

[S]ellers had been involved in “ranking frauds” where they hired people to give fake rankings and remarks at their stores to hype their products.

The new search results sequence prevents them using credibility rankings alone to attract buyers.

“It’s Internet terrorism,” said one vendor, surnamed Zhang, a popular clothing seller who was among the sellers attacked by the alliance members. “Once their chance for competing in an inglorious way is gone, they start to bite innocent people.”

I don’t have any inside knowledge here, but I am aware of sellers playing games to maximize their rankings. E-commerce is what it is because of shopping convenience and peer reviews. Although commercial law certainly applies to online transactions, the sheer volume and relatively small value of these sales preclude, in most cases, taking disputes to courts or the police. The system is therefore governed by the platform operator’s Terms of Use and other internal policies, and as these platforms grow, the importance of maintaining fair rules becomes more important.

If site rules are clear, reasonable, and fair, then users trust the system. Without trust, the whole community falls apart, so if Taobao’s new rule was indeed meant to clean things up, then more power to them.

That being said, even if the anti-Taobao crusaders’ version of events is totally correct, this still does not excuse their actions. This sort of blatant interference with online commerce through, one assumes, anonymous behavior makes me wonder whether the government’s recent “Real name ID” rules have some merit after all.

7 responses on “Anti-Taobao Crusaders: Unfortunate Victims or Internet Terrorists?

  1. Old Eyes

    You need to calmly and clearly explain how your phone was stolen while you were on the phone. What happened? Where did it happen? Who took it? What did you do after it was taken/ Did others see it happen? etcetera.

    1. Stan Post author

      Calmly? I don’t think so.

      {sigh}

      Night, fairly dark street about a block from Shuangjing subway station. Never saw who took it. By the time I realized what was going on (I originally thought my headphones just came loose from the phone, and I spent a few precious seconds grabbing the line to my headphones), the thief had absconded with my phone. Looked around for several minutes, and no one was around. Guy must have been lurking behind me, grabbed the phone when I went around the corner, and then run real fast. This was the most frustrating part. Like a freakin’ ghost . . .

      1. pug_ster

        Listening to music on an iphone? Yeah, I know it is nice but I wouldn’t do it. Besides putting a ‘rob me’ sign on your back, the iphone is bulky and sucks battery life like no other. I just buy a small cheap 2gb mp3 player while I hide my samsung i9000 phone in my pocket. I got an philips spark and it has 24 hours battery life.

  2. gregorylent

    ouch, downside of headphones, lessened peripheral awareness

    “acceptable behavior” … dang, as you know, so relative … in small-town south india, if you don’t lie, you are not respected. why? you obviously have no self-respect, if you are not out to get ahead in any way possible.