Samsung has admitted that developers were offered money to mention its developer competition on the popular developer community Stack Overflow. In a statement issued to The Verge, the company condemns the actions, noting that they were "clearly against Samsung Electronics corporate policy." The company claims it wasn't aware of the situation, and as soon as it found out that a PR firm was offering cash for content, it cancelled the plans. "We remain committed to engaging in transparent and honest communications with consumers."
"Our tactics were misguided, unethical, and wrong."
Shortly before we received Samsung's statement, James Yoo, the COO of Fllu, the PR firm at the center of the scandal, posted an apology to the developer that broke the story. In the frank message, Yoo notes that the tactics Fllu used were "misguided, unethical, and wrong." Yoo also admits that the statement it gave to The Verge, which claimed Samsung was not a client, "may have been misleading." He explains that Fllu was "working on Samsung's promotion for an agency that works for Samsung.
Masking paid content under the guise of "grassroots" communications like forum posts is commonly known as "astroturfing." Just as Fllu is an agency working for an agency, several degrees of separation are common with astroturfing, making it difficult to trace back to the source, but, crucially, very easy for companies to deny. Earlier this year, Samsung's Taiwan branch admitted that students were paid to spread negative comments about the company's local rival HTC. Although Samsung says it's committed to "transparent and honest" communications, it clearly needs to do a better job policing its PR agencies' actions.