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Users contributing Android bug reports to the StackOverflow developer community were offered cash in exchange for "organically" directing interest to a promotion aimed at creating Android apps with features that only work on certain Samsung phones.
Samsung's contest for proprietary Android apps
Samsung's current "Smart App" promotion seeks to spread third party developer adoption of the company's "Chord SDK," which supports multiplayer games and file sharing between certain new Samsung devices running at least Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, as well as media sharing to Samsung's Smart TVs.
Samsung Chord overlaps in functionality with a variety of Apple technologies, including AirPlay, AirDrop and GameCenter multiplayer features. Google also has its own competing initiatives for "pure" Android, including Beam and the Chrome Cast feature it just launched.
Samsung does however warn that unlike AirPlay or AirDrop, Chord currently does not support any authorization or encryption, noting that "unauthorized nodes might get connected" if developers don't roll their own security measures.
In order to promote its own proprietary Chord as a way to monopolize on its position as the largest Android licensee at the expense of Google, Samsung made using it a central requirement for contestants participating to win prizes in its latest Smart App challenge.
The contest plans to pay out $800,000 across ten winners, with submitted Samsung Chord apps judged for uniqueness, commercial potential, functionality, usability and design by a panel including venture capitals, the chief executive of Appcelerator and journalist John Biggs of TechCrunch.
Participants submitting Chord apps must also have English language support, and as the company notes, " If you have incorporated IAP (In-App Purchase) function, you must use Samsung IAP. If you insert advertisements into the app, you must use Samsung AdHub."
Samsung is increasingly working to introduce its own proprietary extensions to Android. It featured some (such as its alternative to Google Translate) in place of Google's own at the launch of the Galaxy S4 this summer, and the company hopes to find third party developer support for others in its October devcon, launched as an alternative to Google IO.
Samsung seeks to go viral with Fllu
To promote Chord and its Smart App contest, Samsung contracted with Korean marketing agency Fllu.com, which markets itself as "Marketing Gone Viral."
"Paying for followers will not get you the results you need," the company's website states. "Follower growth needs to be organic. We like to keep things All Natural here at FLLU. It's all about Organic Growth!"
The company invites potential clients, "Donât just jump on the bandwagon. Work with us and be the bandwagon. Get the fllu."
Fllu strikes a sour Chord with the open source community
To promote Samsung Chord, Fllu began contacting members on StackOverflow, a question and answer community website for software developers.
Delyan Kratunov, a developer who has been accruing reputation points on StackOverflow for contributing lots of Android bug reports, notes on his Delyan.me blog that he was contacted by Fllu, asking if he "would be interested in doing a small partnership to promote the upcoming Samsung Smart App Challenge."
When he asked about what was involved in the partnership, [email protected] responded, "We contacted members that we feel know something about Androids and Android Apps. Also those that are ACTIVE on Stackoverflow... All we need you to do is talk about the SSAC (Samsung Smart App Challenge) and get the word out."
Specifically, that meant, "We were thinking about 4 questions on Stackoverflow over the span of a month..... as well as replies to posts made by other members. Don't worry about finding the questions to reply to because we will send you links."
"Please help me prevent FLLU and Samsung from getting away with this! Spread the word, don't let them undermine the few good communities we've created out there on the interwebz!" - Delyan Kratunov
Fllu added, "We don't want to SPAM...I repeat we don't want you to spam the message boards with links to the contest. The questions should be casual and organic. Like 'Anyone know anything about SSAC?' or... 'Need some feedback on the app I am about to enter for the Samsung Smart App Challenge.'"
In return for "4 questions spread out over a month" and "replies to others posts about the SSAC (you will get responses because we have other members doing the same thing you are doing), Fllu wrote, "We are willing to pay $500 just for that. Not a lot of work...since you are involved in Stackoverflow ANYWAY."
Kratunov's blog response was "Oh hell no!" adding, "this guy is totally out of touch with what StackOverflow is," and asking readers, "please help me prevent FLLU and Samsung from getting away with this! Spread the word, don't let them undermine the few good communities we've created out there on the interwebz!"
Kratunov also contacted StackOverflow, which resulted in Fllu following up with an apology for the "breach against their Terms of Service" and a redacting of its pay-to-post offer.
Spam sung by Samsung
This isn't the first or an isolated example of Samsung hiring other firms to "organically" post paid advertisements pretending to be unpaid fans or just generally interested in promoting Samsung's efforts to turn Android its own proprietary operating system.
Last August, Brian Ford drew attention to "A Perfect Galaxy," a Tumbler blog created, supposedly, by a fan who came up with such lines that "I believe there's only one that can be described as Perfect, and it's made by Samsung."
The anonymous individual created a "Drag Race Scratch Test" viral video that dragged an iPhone and Samsung device behind a car and portrayed Samsung's phone as having survived better. The video was accompanied by slogans and graphical memes intended to look like posts on popular viral news community Reddit.com.
The video was subsequently featured by Gizmodo as coming from a "delightful" host whose amateur "footage is jittery as hell."
After some investigation into the source of the video, Ford reported that "The Perfect Galaxy" author had stopped updating his blog, leaving a final post claiming to have been fired from his job for spending too much company time on Twitter.
The bright side of getting fired, the "Galaxy Fan" wrote, was that now "fate has give me the opportunity to become what I always was truly meant to be: A Samsung Mobiler. They get early access to product, and get to wear those awesome blue shirts, .. SERIOUSLY best job out of ALL THE JOBS."
Ford looked up the domain registration for the blog and discovered it was "registered by a social advertising agency called Spreading Jam which is a paid client of Samsung," noting that "nothing on the Spreading Jam website mentions this connection and there's no effort to disclose the affiliation on any of the aperfectgalaxy social sites."
Jason Hyland, the London-based domain registrant, worked for Spreading Jam, which had just promoted "a series of Breakfree Films for Samsung."
After his report, all the social accounts related to aperfectgalaxy were taken offline, including its YouTube scratch video. Ford also cited a U.S. Federal Trade Commission guideline that requires "'material connections' (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers â connections that consumers would not expect â must be disclosed."
Taiwan investigates same spam sung by Samsung
This spring, Taiwan's Fair Trade Commission launched an investigation into Samsung's business practices after reports surfaced that the company had hired students to post malicious online comments about its competitor HTC.
A report by BBC News cited Samsung Taiwan's Facebook page a saying it had "ceased all marketing activities that involve the posting of anonymous comments."
The company added that "the recent incident was unfortunate, and occurred due to insufficient understanding of these [the company's] fundamental principles."
Samsung faces an $828,000 fine from Taiwan's FTC if convicted of "false advertising," although the U.S. FTC does not appear to be investigating Samsung's involvement with Spreading Jam and its undisclosed endorsements via "A Perfect Galaxy."
Samsung's phony tablet users at Galaxy launch
Rather than being a recent series of misunderstandings, Samsung's undisclosed endorsements by contrived users were a prominent part of Samsung's launch of the Honeycomb Galaxy Tab.
When it unveiled its new Galaxy Tab lineup in 2011, it featured an "interview project" purported to depict real consumers from "a variety of backgrounds" who presented stories of what appeared to be very satisfied Galaxy Tab owners, albeit voicing clumsy and phony sounding comments.
Joan Hess, described as a freelance travel writer, endorsed the product saying, "I would mostly use it communicating with people all around the globe when I'm on the move," before giggling "it's sexy, like me!"
On stage, Samsung executives described the interviews as "true life stories," but an investigation by Harry McCracken of Technologizer revealed that the first two individuals were actors, not travel writers or business people as Samsung had introduced them as.
The third "user" to have supposedly "picked up" one of the new Galaxy Tabs before it had even been released was described as an "independent film director," but in reality he "works for a New York production company, one thatâs done work for Samsung," McCracken found.
McCracken later noted that Samsung had presented its "business user" as appearing on the cover of a fictitious magazine designed to look like Time, additionally crediting the man as having written a story, the text of which was barely readable in the video presentation, but in an ironic twist, was copied from McCracken's own review of the Galaxy Tab.
"One that wasn't glowing," McCracken pointed out. "for instance, the text that Samsung's video producers lifted says that the Tab is 'no where near as polished and complete' as the original iPad."
In the latest report by Time, Jared Newman continues to note that "Compared to iPad, Tablet Apps Are Still Androidâs Weak Point."