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Apple says no to Yes Men's fake iPhone site

One thing Apple doesn't seem to suffer well: imitators, even those with do-gooder intentions, and especially those with a bone to pick about Apple buying minerals from countries that use those funds for wars.

On Nov. 16, the same day that Apple released the Beatles on iTunes, the Yes Men — practical jokers with a streak of cyber-activism who target "leaders and big corporations" who they say "put profits ahead of everything else" — launched a website (www.apple-cf.com) purporting a new iPhone4CF that looked and felt so much like a real Apple site that Apple wasted barely any time in shutting them down. But not before the Yes Men had the final word in crafting an Apple-like response that only served to inform the public further about their issues.

Under its "Hijinks" section, Yes Men shows its previous targets, including: Chevron, Canada, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and The New York Post.

"CF" stands for "conflict-free" and in specific reference to Apple using resources from areas that are as opposite from conflict-free as can be, such as the ironically-named Democratic Republic of Congo. (Since the site was taken down Thursday, we're relying on other sources, such as the Yes Men blog, for details of the Yes Men campaign.) 

This summer, Apple received a lot of heat from activists protesting their use of minerals from the Congo.

Four minerals are used in consumer electronics, such as cell phones: tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. An amendment in a financial overhaul bill would require companies to disclose the origins of certain minerals, according to this report by The Hill.

From the anti-genocide-focused Enough Project, which zeroed in on Apple as a "trend-setting power" whose example of certifying conflict-free products could "influence the entire industry":

As consumers who love Apple products, we must demand that Apple act responsibly and verify that the minerals used in their products are not fueling the war in Congo. We want to be able to continue purchasing Apple products and be confident that they are not helping perpetuate a conflict in which Congolese civilians are raped and killed each day..If every electronics company ensured that the minerals used in its products were conflict-free, rebel and militia groups would be denied the estimated $180 million they make each year and use to terrorize the communities of eastern Congo.

Using information from the Enough Project, TechEYE reported that although Apple has a policy of not using conflict metals, the minerals it does use may be "smuggled to the coast and shipped to plants in China, India or a number of other countries. There, they are combined with other metals, making them harder, though not impossible, to trace."

Apple responded to the allegations in e-mails, such as one sent to Voice of America that stated the company requires its suppliers to declare their minerals aren't coming from illegal Congo mines. In addition:

A supplier responsibility 2010 progress report says tantalum poses a particular challenge since the supply chain consists of many types of businesses, from mines to brokers, processors and refiners.  The Apple report says that the combination of a lengthy supply chain and refining process makes it difficult to track and trace tantalum from the mine to finished products, but that Apple is tackling the challenge.

While that's about as much as Apple will state on the record, Yes Men crafted a clever mea culpa from Apple in its mock press release from a seemingly non-existent Apple spokesperson with a non-working number:

We at Apple have acknowledged in the past that the conflict in the Congo, which has claimed many millions of lives, is fuelled in part by the provision of minerals that go into consumer electronic products, and not only Apple's. However, so-called "conflict-free" certification is not a real solution, merely a very tiny part of a real solution. Regardless of whether Apple or other companies produce "conflict-free" products, the Congo conflict will not end until the U.S. government chooses to enforce its own laws.

While their intentions may be genuine, the Yes Men need to do more fact-checking before they spout off. Dave Gilson from Mother Jones makes some corrections in the content of the campaign that show the complexities of the Congolese situation and that the specific companies the Yes Men blame may not be the most effective in curtailing the violence, which is the ultimate goal of the activists.