Mark Tanner

Fake Boyfriends and Alibaba’s Bid to Clean Things Up

2017/01/25 Mark Tanner
For millions of Chinese, Spring Festival is the most magical of times.  It’s the one holiday of the year they get to spend at home, catching up with nearest and dearest with the chance to demonstrate their success in the city through generous gifts and red envelopes.  For countless others, it’s a time to dread. Single 20 and 30-somethings across the country return home with trepidation as parents, aunties, uncles and grandparents get ready to pry and lament at their lack of a lover.

Over the past few years some of these loveless souls have taken certain measures to avoid this exact scenario.  A simple search on Taobao and a cool ¥1,000/day ($140) + expenses, and you can find yourself a boyfriend or girlfriend – well, a fake one.  If nothing else, it can keep mum off your back for another year and provide ‘legitimacy’ to your updates about how great life is in the city.

This year things have changed.  A search on Taobao for “Rent boyfriend” 租男友 (Zu Nan You) returns the “According to relevant laws and regulations, we can’t display” verbiage.

Fake boyfriends are just a small part of a growing list of products that are getting tougher to buy on Taobao. Alibaba has been making noises about fighting fakes for some time now; in 2014, when the company listed on the NYSE, it made a lot of promises about cleaning up its platforms. But it would appear too little had been done when Alibaba was ousted from the prestigious Anti Counterfeit Coalition in May 2016, prompting Alibaba to overhaul its IACC MarketSafe Program, allowing any brand to access it at no cost.

Yet even after countless promises, Taobao remained a happy hunting ground for fake aficionados. After being taken off in 2012, December saw the platform make a villainous return to the Office of the US Trade Representative’s Notorious Markets registry.  Keeping company with platforms supporting illegal online pharmacists and counterfeit security tags and circumvention devices wasn’t exactly the look Jack Ma was hoping for going into another inspirational speech about global trade at Davos last week and the announcement of Alibaba’s $600 million sponsorship deal for the next six Olympic Games, placing it up there with Coca Cola, Visa and McDonalds.

In what must have been a few late nights in Hangzhou, followed by a glitzy event and flurry of announcements, Alibaba claimed it would [finally] be tapping into its rich data analytics, working with brands such as Louis Vuitton, Samsung, SWAROVSKI, Mars and Huawei to form the Alibaba Big Data Anti-Counterfeiting Alliance in a bid to rid the world’s largest shopping mall of phonies.

Fighting counterfeits is not easy in China, even for a company with the resources and influence of Alibaba. The US Chamber of Commerce estimates that fakes add $396 billion annually to China’s economy – 12% of its exports and 1.5% of its GDP.  With counterfeits contributing so much wealth, many individuals charged with cracking down at a local level are often ambivalent about enforcing it.

The effectiveness of Alibaba’s Alliance is still unknown, but no business is better placed to improve China’s IP-protection. Things still have a long way to go, but we’re positive that with Alibaba’s progress, coupled with reinforcement from Beijing – as China’s own patents soar and pivotal trademark rulings for Michael Jordan, Michael Bastian and a host of lesser-knowns not named Michael – things are moving in the right direction.

So we’ll leave you with that promising news to end the Year of the Monkey, on top of China becoming the beacon of hope for global trade. For those hoping to find that fake boyfriend or girlfriend for the Lunar New Year, there are plenty of other places you can get them in China! Wishing you good fortune (but not in the way Nike did) for the Year of the Rooster. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.

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