It can be hard to tell a difference between AirPods and the many earbuds that resemble them, but checking the box is always a good start. US Customs and Border Protection tonight tweeted that its officers had “recently seized 2,000 counterfeit Apple AirPods from Hong Kong, valued at $398K had they been genuine.” There’s also this press release on the situation, which praises CBP officers for “protecting the American public from various dangers on a daily basis” and says that “the interception of these counterfeit earbuds is a direct reflection of the vigilance and commitment to mission success by our CBP officers daily.”
The only problem is, based on the agency’s own photos, the seized products appear to be legitimate OnePlus Buds — transported in a box that plainly says as much. But CBP proudly tweeted “THAT’S NOT AN APPLE,” as if its people had astutely detected a forged piece of 18th-century art. It’s not clear if all of the 2,000 blocked units were OnePlus Buds, though the CBP images are unmistakable.
The units originated from Hong Kong and were seized at JFK on August 31st; they were headed to Nevada, according to the press release. If they were all OnePlus Buds, CBP’s math on the shipment value is way off: at $79 each, 2,000 of them would be worth $158,000. (The original estimate is based on the price of AirPods.)
OnePlus has since replied to the CBP tweet and is also having fun with the situation on social media.
Hey, give those back!— OnePlus USA (@OnePlus_USA) September 14, 2020
In a statement on Monday afternoon, CBP offered more details on why it seized the OnePlus Buds, claiming that they violate Apple’s “configuration trademark” for AirPods. Yes, the form factor that Apple created is now shared by many models of true wireless earbuds on the market. There are some truly shameless knockoffs out there, but you don’t see all of them getting headed off at the airport. Nowhere in the original press release is OnePlus even mentioned, and there’s no clarity as to whether officers knew what they were looking at. A lot of people would confuse the white OnePlus Buds with AirPods!
But again, the boxes in these photos say OnePlus Buds. It’s not a knockoff AirPods box that uses the wrong font or something. There’s seemingly no trickery at play, at least with the seized product, but in its statement on Monday, CBP said that the seizure “is unrelated to the images or language on the box.”
OnePlus declined comment when reached by The Verge. Was this an embarrassing gaffe by border officers, or a wake-up call that earbud makers need to be a little more original? Maybe both. You’ve gotta figure the blue OnePlus Buds probably would’ve had a better chance getting through.
Update September 14th 4:15PM ET: The article has been updated to reflect Monday’s statement and more detailed explanation from US Customs and Border Protection.