Tech

Tim Culpan is a technology columnist for Bloomberg Gadfly. He previously covered technology for Bloomberg News.

Executives at Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. were shedding crocodile tears Thursday after the U.S. Office of the Trade Representative put the e-commerce giant on its naughty list.

Taobao.com is among 21 sites named as Notorious Online Markets -- alongside The Pirate Bay, file-storage service 4Shared.com and streaming video provider BeeVideo.tv -- due to "the large volume of allegedly counterfeit and pirated goods available and the challenges right holders experience in removing and preventing illicit sales," the USTR wrote in an off-cycle review of online and physical markets known to harbor fakes.

Alibaba claims it has been doing a lot to crack down on copies, and has spilled a lot of digital ink trying to convince the world as much. In what seems to be a preemptive move -- the USTR had called for comments back in August --  Alibaba last week issued a press release claiming that "counterfeiters can run, but can't hide from Alibaba's big data," citing a police raid that happened five months ago.

Customer Count
Its plethora of goods, both fake and legitimate, continues to attract more customers to Alibaba's sites
Source: Bloomberg

Whatever campaigning Alibaba did prior to publication didn't keep it from being named and shamed, and its response sounded more like the whinging of a petulant child than the chosen words of a mature international company. Here's some of the three-paragraph statement issued by Group President Michael Evans:

"Our results speak for themselves. 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."

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.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Tim Culpan in Taipei at tculpan1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katrina Nicholas at knicholas2@bloomberg.net