If everything in technology seems unreal these days, it could be because a culture of fakeness is going mainstream. Technology is being challenged on all sides by a rising tide of the phony, the fake, the counterfeit, the hoax, and the bald-faced lie.
The Dumb IE User Hoax
Users of Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser have lower IQs than users of alternative browsers, according to a widely circulated story in the past week. Too bad the story is fake. And just about everybody fell for it.
The original hoax story reported that a company called ApTiquant conducted a study to rank the relative intelligence of browser users. It turns out, as the BBC discovered, that the ApTiquant web site had been put up within the past month and used staff photos from another company's web site along with fake names.
The BBC also found that company employees could not be reached by telephone. Despite the flakiness of the source, and the absurdity of the claim, the original hoax story was reported as real by CNN, Forbes, NPR, the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, New York Magazine, CBS News, the Seattle Post Intelligencer, the International Business Times, Mashable, Gawker, the Huffington Post, PC World, Zdnet -- even the BBC itself, initially.
Why is everybody so quick to believe a hoax story like this? If the IQ claim had been made about members of one political party or the other, the hoax would have been exposed in minutes. Why isn’t there more skepticism out there about technology-based claims?
Newt Gingrich's Allegedly Phony Following
The gossip blog Gawker accused presidential candidate Newt Gingrich this week of using outside companies to "buy" or artificially inflate his Twitter follower numbers. The social media analytics site PeekYou says they used an algorithm to determine that some 92 percent of Gingrich's Twitter following is fake.
Gingrich's press secretary has denied the charge.
Regardless of whether Gingrich's numbers have been faked, the reality is that you can find a thriving market for buying followers online. Dozens of sites, including BuyTwitterFollowers.com. You can also buy Facebook fans, YouTube subscribers, Tumblr followers and "web traffic."
Whenever you see someone with high follower counts, you can't trust that number because the social network might be fake
Counterfeit Apple Stores
A blogger recently posted pictures of a fake Apple Store in Kunming, China. The duplicate store copied everything from the wooden tables to employee uniforms. Further investigation revealed that several such stores existed in China, and even the employees may have thought they worked for Apple.
The Chinese government is reportedly shutting them down.
Another Chinese store, called 11 Furniture Store, has apparently copied the look and feel, including color scheme and general layout, of Ikea furniture stores. The counterfeiting of Western stores and restaurants is rampant in China, from fake Starbucks to duplicate Diary Queens.
Fake iPhone 4 and 5
A video popped up on YouTube last month showing what looks exactly -- and I mean exactly -- like an Apple iPhone 4. In reality, it's a counterfeit running Google's Android platform, with an interface that duplicates the iPhone's iOS.
My favorite moment in the video is when the narrator says: "This is a totally different product from others." Uh, no, it’s exactly the same as others…
If the Android-based iPhone 4 wasn't impressive enough, another video surfaced this week of a fake iPhone 5 in China. Note that Apple hasn't even announced a ship date for the real iPhone 5.
Apple watchers are speculating that the counterfeit may be just like the real thing, and based on inside information smuggled out of the factories.
The most interesting aspect to this trend isn't the speed and skill by which fake phones are built in China, but by an apparent lack of skill in designing something original in that country.
Why can't China innovate? And if they can, name your favorite Chinese invention or original brand from the last 20 years. The only brand that comes to mind when I ask this of my technology minded friends is Lenovo. That's a great company, but what do they make? IBM "clones"!
Of course, there's nothing new about Chinese competence in the creation of knock-offs. What may be changing, however, is that China's acceptance of fakes, or ambivalence toward brand and originality, may be spreading globally.
Are people increasingly willing to trade authenticity for lower price? It's hard to tell.