Perhaps one of the more nuanced aspects of Xi Jinping’s signature crackdown on corruption was forbidding government officials from receiving mooncakes as gifts. The traditional snack – which is a popular present during the Mid-Autumn Festival that occurred last week – has also been a front for paying bribes (with cash discreetly stashed in the often elaborate cake boxes).
This year mooncakes were back in the spotlight after four members of Alibaba’s online security department were fired for creating software that helped them buy up the surplus of the treats during a company giveaway.
Alibaba had rewarded every employee with one box of the cakes and finding itself with a few to spare, the remainder were sold internally, online. However, the now unemployed engineers circumvented their company’s mooncake website and diverted 124 leftover boxes to themselves using a programme they designed.
Alibaba claimed that the actions of the four caused “unfairness in welfare distribution among employees” and demonstrated a lack of integrity.
Some netizens thought this a bit rich. One weibo user noted: “How unexpected that a company which sells counterfeit goods would have such a high moral standard.” (For more on this controversial topic, see WiC327.)
Because the employees worked for the online security department, Alibaba’s CEO later asserted that the situation was primarily “an issue of security”.
Yet many feel that by firing these programmers Alibaba instead shot itself in the foot. One weibo user, going by the name Guimoren, questioned: “The website they built for selling the mooncakes had many loopholes, and when they were discovered by the programmers, the programmers were immediately fired. How will this protect user security?”
Another decried, “The system is so weak that it can’t even withstand people within the department taking a crack at it and yet you still have the gall to talk about user security?”
Shortly after news of the sacking spread online, an anonymous contributor appeared on Zhihu – China’s answer to Quora – claiming to be one of the recently dismissed. He accepted that someone working in security should not have behaved the way that he did, but rebuffed those denigrating his character.
Meanwhile, some found the timing of this scandal a little too coincidental: “Isn’t this spectacle of the ‘mooncakers’ just to divert people’s attention away from the fact that Alipay [the company’s popular online payments service] is introducing a service charge?”.
But for many other netizens, the admission by Alibaba that it had fired the engineers was viewed as an exercise designed to show how seriously the firm takes security. That said, perhaps next year it should consider donating any surplus mooncake to charity.
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