Was iPhoneGirl A Phony?

(yWeekend)  Was iPhoneGirl A Planned Beauty?  By Ma Jun.  September 4, 2008.

Was this a "marketing show" that was staged by people behind the scene? Or was this a spontaneous incident that occurred by chance alone?

This newest "Internet fairy tale" occurred as follows:  The photos of a Shenzhen female worker with a radiant smile appeared in the brand new iPhone purchased by a young English man.  He posted these photos onto the Internet, and it drew the attention of an uncountable number of netizens.  From overseas to China, from the Internet to the print media, "the prettiest iPhone Chinese girl" became red-hot in a mere six days!

Is this a real event?  Could it be planned by some company behind the scene?  Some netizens still refuse to believe it.  The yWeekend reporter pursued the case down many lines of inquiry.  One Internet promoter claimed that he knows the details of the case!  Since it is not possible to assess the reliability of this assertion, the yWeekend reporter will try to present the various angles of this case.  Yes, that includes all the questions and doubts too.


A netizen with ID 'markm49uk' claimed that he is an Englishman and he bought a brand new 3G edition iPhone.  He found that there were several photos of a smiling "pretty girl."  He posted those photos to the website macrumors.com for Apple fans.  This post aroused the interest of overseas netizens.  Some people believe that the workers on the production line of the factory took the photos for fun and forgot to delete them.

The manufacturer of the 3G iPhone is the Foxconn group from Taiwan with the factory being located in Shenzhen, mainland China.  So were the photos taken by Foxconn workers who forgot to delete them and then reached England?  The yWeekend reporter went to the information office of Foxconn and received a confirmation.

These photos are of high-resolution quality of more than 300k in size.  Some netizens praised the quality of the 3G edition of iPhone.

This post has generated 11 pages of comment at macrumors.com so far.  One netizen said that this reminded of him of his childhood.  Some netizens even connected these photos to world peace.

This incident rapidly went back into China where it was discussed enthusiastically at most of the websites.  At some of the forums, netizens called for a human flesh search for this young girl.  As of September 3, Google has 18,200,000 results for iPhoneGirl; Baidu has 903,000 results where the term is also the ninth hottest search keyword of the week (behind "Chinese national soccer team players going to the hotel").

"In six days, iPhoneGirl became red-hot across the Internet.  This affair was propagated through the Internet at an astonishing speed," said an Internet promoter.

On September 3, Chinese media claimed that iPhoneGirl was a hoax and that 'markm49uk' was the webmaster Arnold Kim of macrumors.com.  The netizens analyzed that the evidence from the Chinese media and thought it was fuzzy, unclear and faulty.  Therefore, it is hard to reach that conclusion.

The Chinese media raised one question: 'markm49uk' claims to be English, so why is the ISP on the photo the American company AT&T.

This is actually a misunderstanding.  The original photos that 'markm49uk' posted did not identify the ISP.  The photo that showed AT&T was composed by Southern Metropolis Daily for its story, according to their reporter Wang Chengbo.  Southern Metropolis Daily provided an explanation alongside the photo.

In the original macrumors.com post, some foreign netizens raised questions, and 'markmuk49' make several responses and clarifications.

Based upon the content of the original photos, if they are forged, then they must necessarily be connected to people inside China.


Upon hearing the request from yWeekend reporter, Foxconn media specialist Mr. Guo said that the company is not doing media interviews about this affair.

More than 30 minutes later after receiving the interview outline, Mr. Guo agreed to be interviewed.  When the interview began, Mr. Guo read out the official response from Foxconn about this affair.

iPhoneGirl is a worker on the assembly line of the mobile phone testing division of the company.  An iPhone quality inspector took photos of her and forgot to delete them.  This worker is presently still at her original post.  She has requested the company not disclose her name.  The company respects her decision, and hopes that the media will protect this girl.

This response was more or less the same as in the previous media reports.  Mr. Guo declined to reveal more details about this female wroker.

When the reporter asked whether Foxconn is conducting a joint investigation with Apple, Mr. Guo said that after the affair appeared on the Internet, Foxconn contacted Apple and got their understanding.  He said that this was as far as he could say.

Why did an iPhone have photos upon leaving the factory?

Mr. Guo of Foxconn said that the female worker in the photos was a quality inspector.  At the time, another inspector must check the photo capability of the iPhone and took some photos of this girl.  The inspector forgot to delete the photos which ended up with the end-user.

Some questions arise from this explanation: How does Foxconn inspect the production line?  Do they check samples?  Or do they inspect every item?  After testing the photo capability of the iPhone, isn't there a standard procedure for restoring all the factory settings?

The yWeekend reporter posed these questions in the interview outline as well as during the telephone interview.  But Mr. Guo of Foxconn never answered them.

Previously the media reported that the Shenzhen factory of Foxconn can produced 800,000 iPhone's each week. Are these iPhones tested manually by workers for their photo capability?  Mr. Guo did not answer that either.


Apple's public relations firm East-8 Strategic Consulting gave virtually the same response as Foxconn.

Concerning the globally interesting subject of when "iPhone will officially enter Cina" and the media report that "China Mobile is holding discussions with Apple about 3G services," East-8 used a very official tone to say that there are no comments.

Three or four days ago, a certain portal published a post titled <Apple and China Mobile are arm-wrestling; the iPhoneGirl becomes the lethal weapon>: "Following the global popularity of iPhoneGirl, the discussions between Apple and China Mobile for iPhone will accelerate.  Analysts believes that the discussions between Apple and China Mobile are reaching a critical moment, and the iPhoneGirl could be a lethal weapon for Apple."  The public relations firm of Apple has no comment on this.

What does Apple (China) have to say for itself?  Sohu.com Technology editor Chen Zhong contacted Ms. Huang who is responsible for media communications at Apple.  Sohu.com said that Ms. Huang also declined to comment.  Instead, she asked, "How do netizens and the media view this affair?


How did things happen?  Was the iPhoneGirl manipulated by the maker?  Was this really an Internet promotional campaign?

The yWeekend reporter started from the first post and investigated how the photos were propagated.

The reporter went to the Apple fan site macrumors.com where the photos first appeared.  He found the original post.  He looked up the information on the poster 'markm49uk' and found out that he was a newbie who had registered at macrumors.com in March this year.  Previous to posting the iPhoneGirl photos, we had made a total of six comments on news about Apple.

This post on the iPhoneGirl photos was his first original post.  On August 20, at 11:43am, 'markm49uk' posted <iPhone 5G - already with pictures! (aka "iPhone Girl")>.  He described how we found the iPhoneGirl photos and posted the three photos of the girl with the radiant smile.

"There is no evidence to show that he is a tool and we cannot judge.  But it is suspicious that he was so inactive and unrevealing before the iPhoneGirl photos.  Based upon these information, we cannot treat as an ordinary netizen."  A netizen analyzed this way.

According to what 'markm49uk' said, he found a total of 10 photos in his iPhone, of which 3 belong to the girl.  He has posted those ten photos on his own photo album page.

Concerning the doubts about whether the photos came from an iPhone, he countered: Just look at the exif information on the photos and you will find out that they were taken by an iPhone.

The reporter used software to look at the exif information in these photos and confirmed that they were taken by an iPhone at around 7:20am on July 26, 2008.  The ten photos were taken during a space of about 20 seconds.  The girl figured in the last three photos.

But the reporter understands that exif information on photos can be freely edited.  "It is meaningless to use exif information to determine whether some photo is real or not."  A netizen wrote this at the famous photography website Xitek.

This says that it is unreliable to use the exif information as suggested by 'markm49uk.'


The English-language website iPhoneGirl.net was said to be established specifically for this girl, and it served an important role in propagating the information.  This website stated that "this blog searches for all the news around the world on the wonderful iPhoneGirl photos."  On August 25, the website published two news items: one of them was "this blog has been reported on Chinese news" and the other was "Even Holland knows about the iPhoneGirl blog."

The iPhoneGirl photos appeared on this website was August 20, the same day as 'markm49uk' posted the original photos.  "That is to say, someone established a website for this girl on the same day.  The two events were practically simultaneous."

This was enough to raise suspicions: Someone saw the post on the iPhoneGirl that day, got the idea to set up a website, registered the domain and obtained a web space all within a single day?  The reporter checked out the website via 'whois' and learned that the registrant is someone named Jeff Blakely.  No matter who that is, he may be deeply connected to the iPhoneGirl incident.

The iPhoneGirl.net website also posted some photos about the Foxconn factory and the assembly lines.  The photos seemed very standardized as workers dressed in uniforms go about their work meticulously.  The photos also showed the workers playing basketball and other things.

The photos show that the Foxconn workers were leaving a decent life.  On this website, the reporter also saw a video which presented life in a factory dormitory via interviews.  This video was taken before the Spring Festival.  The workers have decent living conditions.  The dormitory was not crowded, and the workers sat around the table eating hot pot.

Why would a blog for iPhoneGirl show so many photos about Foxconn workers?  What is it trying to say?  Was this website actually established by netizens?

These questions inevitably make one want to link the website with Foxconn.

There was another website inside using the name iPhoneGirl.  According to the webmaster, he is an Apple user and he wanted to take advantage of the situation.  On September 1, the webmaster announced in <The media are silly; netizens are deceived; END!> to say that he is quitting and that there won't be anything else more on the iPhoneGirl.


The yWeekend reporter then investigated the propagation process, and found out that it only took one day for the information to reach China from overseas.

Though the search engines, the reporter found out that after 'markm49uk' made his post, the overseas technology website gizmodo.com posted it at 1:30pm on August 20 (New York time).  On the next day (August 21), the Chinese blog "Moonlight Blogger" copied this story from gizmodo along with the three photos of the iPhoneGirl.  This was less than 24 hours after gizmodo picked the story up.

On that day, the Chinese IT website Kuqin.com posted the blog post of "Moonlight Blogger."

On August 22, Hexun, NetEase Technology, Pacific Computer Net, Paopao and other Chinese websites began to carry the post.

On August 24, SIna.com Technology carried the post.  Other major portals began to report too.

After August 26, Southern Metropolis Daily (Guangdong province), South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and other print media began to report on the story.

By this time, the postings at the various websites and forums have reached a new height.

From the end of August to early September, the major American media joined the coverage.  The Washington Post reported the story, followed by USA TODAY and others.  According to the Washington Post, the Associated Press reporter tried to contact the spokesperson at Foxconn by email but received no response.

From the time when iPhoneGirl first appeared to the heavy media coverage, the battlefield shifted several times.  The iPhoneGirl was exported and then re-imported.  After becoming very popular in China, it was then "re-exported again" to the traditional foreign media brands.


When the story was featured in the Chinese media, the two reports from Southern Metropolis Daily were especially influential.

The Southern Metropolis Daily reporter Wang Chengbo who wrote those reports told yWeekend that he went twice to the Foxconn factory to look for the girl with no success.  He retold what he went through to find the girl.

"At first, I saw the reports about iPhoneGirl at Hexun and other Chinese websites.  Based upon the tips offered by netziens, I went to the Guanlanyuan factory district of Foxconn to find the girl on the afternoon of August 25."

The factory district of Foxconn is actually immense.  Wang Chengbo first went to Level 2 of the building indicated on the Internet.  A security guard looked at the photo that he had and said that he has never seen this girl before.  But her uniform looked like the work clothes for the quality inspection department on Level 5.

At Level 2 and Level 5, Wang Chengbo asked more than 60 workers.  Oddly enough, none of them said that they knew or met this girl.  Very soon, he was stopped by the security guards.  He did not manage to enter the factory floor on Level 5.

On the next day, he took a copy of the newspaper published that day and went to the Foxconn factory district to look for the girl again.  This time, Wang Chengbo was even more unlucky than the day before.  The security guards recognized him and prevented him from entering the building altogether.

The Foxconn media office rejected Wang Chengbo's request to meet with the girl.  The reason was to protect the girl from media harassment.

According to Wang Chengbo, a woman who claimed to have last name Xu called him on the day when his report appeared in the newspaper.  She said that she is the cousin of iPhoneGirl.  When Wang Chengbo called her back, the other party refused to pick up and only replied by SMS.

This Ms. Xu sent a SMS to Wang Chengbo to say that she is forwarding a message from her cousin who did not want her life to be disrupted.

After all the effort, the Southern Metropolis Daily did not get to meet the girl.  "We have some doubts.  But since we did not meet the girl, we cannot make any conclusions."


So what do the Internet promoters feel about this affair?

Interestingly, the two relatively famous Internet promoters held different views when interviewed by yWeekend.

Internet promoter Chen Mo had promoted famous Internet celebrities such as Little Celestial Girl and February Girl.  Upon receiving the telephone call from the yWeekend reporter, he did not even require an explanation of the purpose.  He snickered and said: "You are going to ask about the iPhoneGirl, right?"

"When it first started, it may have been real."  Chen Mo speculated.  There have been occasional reports that users found photos in their new mobile phones.  But this is the first time that there were photos of the pretty worker who made the machine.  It is not impossible for this to occur in the natural course of events.  The post made by the Englishman did not contain any obvious flaws.  So in the absence of evidence, let us assume that it is real.

"But once the affair gets propagated back to China, the manufacturer definitely took the opportunity to carry out a successful hype."  Chen Mo told the reporter: "You can go to check the major websites and forums to see what type of people are stirring things up."

"Based upon my observations, it is mainly the Internet promoters who are writing about this.  I don't have to name names.  We are all in the same circle.  This affair became so hot in just a few days.  It is hard to believe that there wasn't anyone pushing it in the background."

The other Internet promoter is Li Er, who created incidents such as "exchanging a safety pin for a villa."  He told the reporter directly that he already knows that the whole caper was planned from start to finish.

"This is clearly a case of Internet promotion.  You can tell just from the process.  I know who handled this 'case.'  It is a team of people.  But I cannot tell you who they are, because I am acquainted with them."

Li Er analyized: "This 'most beautiful Chinese worker' is like that 'most beautiful cleaning girl' that we did before.  The concept is completely identical.  You bring up a clean and pure image of a pleasant-looking beautifu lfemale worker.  The only difference is that this affair was triggered by having a foreigner post photos to an overseas website.  But this is precisely where it is brilliant."

"The planners of this affair thoroughly understand the Chinese mind -- a lot of Chinese people think that anything that happens overseas must be real.  On this point, they were very successful."  Li Er said that almost all of the popular "most beautiful girls" on the Internet were promoted by Internet promoters from behind the scene.

These so-called "most beautiful girls" are part of the "girl series."  From Tianxian MM to the girl who swapped a safety pin for a villa," they were all variations of the same "girl series."  The rapidity by which iPhoneGirl became red-hot popular on the Internet showed that the planning and execution of this campaign was perfect and effective.

"Why do I say that this was a perfect promotion?  Because it successful used the girl to showcase the product and the manufacturer.  The whole process looked very natural and unaffected.:

But Li Er said that the affair was not traceless.

For example, there was the news that Foxconn fired the girl.  Li Er thought that this was another stage in the promotional campaign.  The purpose was to create another twist in the story to continue to draw attention.  But it was a bit too obvious.  Actually, the girl had nothing to do with the actual taking of the photos.  It was her co-worker who did it and that should have been the person to be fired.  Bringing the fate of the girl into the process was done to secure the continual attention of the netizens.

Then Foxconn came out to dispel that rumor and assured everybody that the girl will not be fired.  Foxconn said that this was just a "beautiful mistake."  That kind of statement gives clue to the promotional effort.

"Before I even knew who the Internet promoters were, I had sensed that the whole matter was not so simple."  Li Er said that ordinary people have no way of knowing the truth with such Internet promotional campaigns unless something goes wrong.  The operators may disclose the truth some day, but certainly not while iPhoneGirl is hot.

Related Link:  China's iPhone Girl: Brilliant Apple PR or lucky accident?  Imagethief