Apple tech-support chatter about Consumer Reports' iPhone snub vanishes
The saga of the iPhone 4's possible reception flaws -- the subject of a harsh Consumer Reports blog post yesterday -- has taken another, weirder turn. Users are complaining that after they post a comment or a query about CR's refusal to recommend the phone on Apple's tech-support forum, company representatives delete the thread.
The Unofficial Apple Weblog wrote about this development in an update this morning. Writer TJ Luoma counted six cases of discussion threads mysteriously vanishing, to be replaced by this vague notice: "Error: you do not have permission to view the requested forum or category." The Luoma post on the AOL-owned blog noted a parallel to the theme of Apple's most famous commercial:
Want some overwrought comparisons to Orwell's 1984? Apple seems to be begging for it.
You can, of course, still find discussions about the CR post -- one that began at 6:05 p.m. yesterday, seen in the screen grab at right, now spans eight pages. (Its second comment: "I'm sure this thread will be deleted soon lol..."). But it's easy to find other threads, beyond those cited in Luoma's post, that appear in a Web search but yield only that "you do not have permission" error when you click through.
Apple PR has yet to reply to my request for comment on the CR story, nor do they appear to have talked to anybody else.
It's important to keep some perspective. Apple is a for-profit company, not a public utility; it is within its rights to decide what appears on its Web site. And its discussion terms of service give it the right to remove offending posts that are not "a technical support question or a technical support answer" or that link to Web sites that don't answer another user's question.
(Yes, the Post has rules of its own about discussions on this site.)
But the issue here isn't what Apple can do, it's what the company should do. And going beyond its traditional silence to stop its customers from talking about coverage of a possible flaw in its product is arrogant and self-defeating.
I asked D.C.-based tech publicist Lisa Amore for comment on how Apple has played this (I've known her since she used to do PR for RealNetworks, which should have given her more than enough practice dealing with bad news). Amore - -a happy owner of an iPod touch who has shied away from buying an iPhone because of worries about AT&T's coverage -- sent a withering response that concluded:
Apple needs to step up to the plate, address the issue, and make amends to their customers. Hiding behind deleted posts and a lack of willingness to talk to the press (and hence their customers) is just plain cowardly.
You know, that whole talk-to-the-people-who-pay-your-salary thing.
The time is past for one-word replies from Steve Jobs to random correspondents; Apple needs to have a conversation with its customers. If the company can provide detailed and regularly updated reports on its environmental efforts, it can also document the performance of its products in sufficient detail to give customers confidence in what they're buying -- or reason to believe that Apple will fix whatever problem does exist.
(As an added bonus, I could then write about something else instead of revisiting this topic every other day.)
July 13, 2010; 1:32 PM ET
Categories: Digital culture , Gripes , Mobile
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