Chinese online giant Alibaba is back on the naughty list this Christmas.
The US Office of the Trade Representative (USTR) placed Taobao, China’s biggest e-commerce platform, back onto a blacklist of “notorious markets” that sell an “unacceptably high” number of counterfeit or pirated goods.
Taobao was taken off this list back in 2012, promising to do more to combat the plethora of fakes found on its platform. And yet, four years later, there strangely seems to be some counterfeit goods still floating around on Taobao.
That fact seems to have finally caught up with the company. Citing complaints made by US and international trade groups, the USTR has said that Taobao has not done enough to curb sales of fake and pirated products.
In the face of this familiar criticism, Alibaba has remained defiant. Alibaba Group President Michael Evans said that his company’s “results speak for themselves,” and pointed at more sinister motives for Taobao’s return to the blacklist.
“Unfortunately, the USTR’s decision leads us to question whether the USTR acted based on the actual facts or was influenced by the current political climate,” Evans writes in a three paragraph company statement.
Over at Bloomberg, tech columnist Tim Culpan has advised Alibaba to stop it already with the crocodile tears:
Perhaps Mr Evans doesn’t use Taobao himself, or was too busy mopping up those tears, but it took me just a few keystrokes to find evidence of fakes persisting. If you want the world to take your anti-counterfeit efforts seriously, the least you could do is run a search on the biography of your own founder and chairman to see how knock-off products can hide from your big data analytics.
Blaming U.S. domestic politics for being thrust into the spotlight is also pretty lame. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t either of the presidential candidates that posted screenshots from Amazon.com listings to help sell e-books at pennies on the dollar.
Alibaba’s use of impressive statistics to claim it’s making progress are worthless in the face of evidence that fakes remain easy for anybody to find.
Spot the spin! Using your skill and judgment, can you guess from today's headlines which of these news outlets is the one owned by Jack Ma? pic.twitter.com/KvPZ1NeL39
— HK Hemlock (@HKBigLychee) December 23, 2016
While the dreaded blacklist doesn’t actually carry any direct penalties, it does deal a hefty blow to Alibaba’s efforts at expanding its services abroad while shedding popular perceptions that its websites are stocked full of fakes.
Last year, Ma resolutely refused to settle a lawsuit filed against Alibaba by Kering SA, which represents upmarket brands such as Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, accusing China’s largest online commerce company of turning a blind eye to sellers hawking counterfeit merchandise.
Ma said that he would rather “lose the case and lose the money, instead of losing our dignity and respect.”
The Alibaba founder also had a rather interesting take on the issue of fakes at a company investor conference in June:
“The problem is that the fake products today, they make better quality, better prices than the real products, the real names. It’s not the fake products that destroy them, it’s the new business models,” he said.
Well, if this online shopping thing goes bust, at least Alibaba has its “booty call app” to fall back on.