WeChat Running on Apple iOS 8
|Developer(s)||Tencent Holdings Limited|
|Initial release||21 January 2011(as Weixin)|
|Operating system||Android, iOS, macOS, Windows|
|Available in||17 languages|
|Type||Instant messaging client|
WeChat (Chinese: 微信; pinyin: Wēixìn (listen); lit.: 'micro-message') is a Chinese multi-purpose messaging, social media and mobile payment app developed by Tencent. First released in 2011, it became the world's largest standalone mobile app in 2018, with over 1 billion monthly active users. WeChat has been described as China's "app for everything" and a "super app" because of its wide range of functions.
User activity on WeChat is analyzed, tracked and shared with Chinese authorities upon request as part of the mass surveillance network in China. WeChat censors politically sensitive topics in China. Data transmitted by accounts registered outside of China is surveilled, analyzed and used to build up censorship algorithms in China.
WeChat began as a project at Tencent Guangzhou Research and Project center in October 2010. The original version of the app was created by Allen Zhang and named "Weixin" by Ma Huateng, CEO of Tencent and launched in 2011. The government has actively supported the development of the e-commerce market in China—for example in the 12th five-year plan (2011–2015).
By 2012, when the number of users reached 100 million, Weixin was re-branded "WeChat" for the international market.
WeChat had over 889 million monthly active users in 2016. As of 2019, WeChat's monthly active users have increased to an estimate of one billion. After the launch of WeChat payment in 2013, its users reached 400 million the next year, 90 percent of whom were in China. By comparison, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp (two other competitive international messaging services better known in the West) had about one billion monthly active users in 2016 but did not offer most of the other services available on WeChat. For example, in Q2 2017, WeChat's revenues from social media advertising were about US$0.9 billion (RMB6 billion) compared to Facebook's total revenues of US$9.3 billion, 98% of which were from social media advertising. WeChat's revenues from its value-added services were US$5.5 billion.
WeChat provides text messaging, hold-to-talk voice messaging, broadcast (one-to-many) messaging, video calls and conferencing, video games, photograph and video sharing, as well as location sharing. WeChat also allows users to exchange contacts with people nearby via Bluetooth, as well as providing various features for contacting people at random if desired (if people are open to it). It can also integrate with other social networking services such as Facebook and Tencent QQ. Photographs may also be embellished with filters and captions, and automatic translation service is available.
WeChat supports different instant messaging methods, including text message, voice message, walkie talkie, and stickers. Users can send previously saved or live pictures and videos, profiles of other users, coupons, lucky money packages, or current GPS locations with friends either individually or in a group chat. WeChat's character stickers, such as Tuzki, resemble and compete with those of LINE, a Korean messaging application.
WeChat users can register as an public account (公众号), which enables them to push feeds to subscribers, interact with subscribers and provide them with services. There are three types of official accounts: a service account, a subscription account and an enterprise account. Once users as individuals or organizations set up a type of account, they cannot change it to another type. By the end of 2014, the number of WeChat official accounts had reached 8 million. Official accounts of organizations can apply to be verified (cost 300 RMB or about US$45). Official accounts can be used as a platform for services such as hospital pre-registrations, visa renewal or credit card service. To create an official account, the applicant must register with Chinese authorities, which discourages "foreign companies".
See main article WeChat Moments.
"Moments" (朋友圈) is WeChat's brand name for its social feed of friends' updates. "Moments" is an interactive platform that allows users to post images, text, and short videos taken by users. It also allows users to share articles and music (associated with QQ Music or other web-based music services). Friends in the contact list can give thumbs up to the content and leave comments. Moments can be linked to Facebook and Twitter accounts, and can automatically post Moments content directly on these two platforms.
In 2017 WeChat had a policy of a maximum of two advertisements per day per Moments user.
Privacy in WeChat works by groups of friends: only the friends from the user's contact are able to view their Moments' contents and comments. The friends of the user will only be able to see the likes and comments from other users only if they are in a mutual friend group. For example, friends from high school are not able to see the comments and likes from friends from a university. When users post their moments, they can separate their friends into a few groups, and they can decide whether this Moment can be seen by particular groups of people. Contents posted can be set to "Private", and then only the user can view it.
WeChat Pay digital payment services
users who have provided bank account information may use the app to pay bills, order goods and services, transfer money to other users, and pay in stores if the stores have a WeChat payment option. Vetted third parties, known as "official accounts", offer these services by developing lightweight "apps within the app". Users can link their Chinese bank accounts, as well as Visa, MasterCard and JCB.
Although users receive immediate notification of the transaction, the WeChat Pay system is not an instant payment instrument, because the funds transfer between counterparts is not immediate. The settlement time depends on the payment method chosen by the customer.
Every WeChat user has their own WeChat Payment account. Users can acquire a balance by linking their WeChat account to their debit card, or by receiving money from other users. For non-Chinese users of WeChat Pay, an additional identity verification process of providing a photo of a valid ID as well as oneself is required before certain functions of WeChat Pay become available. Users who link their credit card can only make payments to vendors, and cannot use this to top up WeChat balance. WeChat Pay can be used for digital payments, as well as payments from participating vendors. As of March 2016, WeChat Pay had over 300 million users.
In 2014 for Chinese New Year, WeChat introduced a feature for distributing virtual red envelopes, modelled after the Chinese tradition of exchanging packets of money among friends and family members during holidays. The feature allows users to send money to contacts and groups as gifts. When sent to groups, the money is distributed equally, or in random shares ("Lucky Money"). The feature was launched through a promotion during China Central Television's heavily watched New Year's Gala, where viewers were instructed to shake their phones during the broadcast for a chance to win sponsored cash prizes from red envelopes. The red envelope feature significantly increased the adoption of WeChat Pay. According to the Wall Street Journal, 16 million red envelopes were sent in the first 24 hours of this new feature's launch. A month after its launch, WeChat Pay's user base expanded from 30 million to 100 million users, and 20 million red envelopes were distributed during the New Year holiday. In 2016, 3.2 billion red envelopes were sent over the holiday period, and 409,000 alone were sent at midnight on Chinese New Year.
In 2016, WeChat started a service charge if users transferred cash from their WeChat wallet to their debit cards. On 1 March, WeChat payment stopped collecting fees for the transfer function. Starting from the same day, fees will be charged for withdrawals. Each user had a 1,000 Yuan (about US$150) free withdrawal limit. Further withdrawals of more than 1,000 Yuan were charged a 0.1 percent fee with a minimum of 0.1 Yuan per withdrawal. Other payment functions including red envelopes and transfers were still free.
WeChat Pay's main competitor in China and the market leader in online payments is Alibaba Group's Alipay. Alibaba company founder Jack Ma considered the red envelope feature to be a "Pearl Harbor moment", as it began to erode Alipay's historic dominance in the online payments industry in China, especially in peer-to-peer money transfer. The success prompted Alibaba to launch its own version of virtual red envelopes in its competing Laiwang service. Other competitors, Baidu Wallet and Sina Weibo, also launched similar features.
In 2019 it was reported that WeChat had overtaken Alibaba with 800 million active WeChat mobile payment users versus 520 million for Alibaba's Alipay. However Alibaba had a 54 per cent share of the Chinese mobile online payments market in 2017 compared to WeChat's 37 per cent share. In the same year, Tencent introduced "WeChat Pay HK", a payment service for users in Hong Kong. Transactions are carried out with the Hong Kong dollar. In 2019 it was reported that Chinese users can use WeChat Pay in 25 countries outside of China, including, Italy, South Africa and the UK.
For work purposes, companies and business communication, a special version of WeChat called Enterprise WeChat (or Qiye Weixin) was launched in 2016. The app was meant to help employees separate work from private life. In addition to the usual chat features, the program let companies and their employees keep track of annual leave days and expenses that need to be reimbursed, employees could ask for time off or clock in to show they were at work.
WeChat Mini Program
Mini Programs also allow businesses to sell on WeChat directly to consumers, using WeChat Pay as the payment mechanism.
In 2015, WeChat offered a heat map feature that showed crowd density. Quartz columnist Josh Horwitz alleged the feature is being used by the Chinese government to track irregular assemblies of people to determine unlawful assembly.
In January 2016, Tencent launched WeChat Out, a VOIP service allowing users to call mobile phones and landlines around the world. The feature allowed purchasing credit within the app using a credit card. WeChat Out was originally only available in the United States, India, and Hong Kong, but later coverage was expanded to Thailand, Macau, Laos, and Italy.
In March 2017, Tencent released WeChat Index. By inserting a search term in the WeChat Index page, users could check the popularity of this term in the past 7, 30, or 90 days. The data was mined from data in official WeChat accounts and metrics such as social sharing, likes and reads were used in the evaluation.
WeChat allowed people to add friends by a variety of methods, including searching by username or phone number, adding from phone or email contacts, playing a "message in a bottle" game, or viewing nearby people who are also using the same service. In 2015 WeChat added a "friend radar" function.
In 2017, WeChat was reported to be developing an augmented reality (AR) platform as part of its service offering. Its artificial intelligence team was working on a 3D rendering engine to create a realistic appearance of detailed objects in smartphone-based AR apps. They were also developing a simultaneous localization and mapping technology, which would help calculate the position of virtual objects relative to their environment, enabling AR interactions without the need for markers, such as Quick Response codes or special images.
In Spring 2020, Wechat users are now able to change their Wechat ID more than once, being allowed to change their username only once per year.Prior to this, a Wechat ID could not be changed more than once.
WeChat Business (微商) is one of the latest mobile social network business model after e-commerce, which utilizes business relationships and friendships to maintain a customer relationship. Comparing with the traditional E-business like JD.com and Alibaba, WeChat Business has a large range of influence and profits with less input and lower threshold, which attracts loads of people to join in WeChat business.
This is the main profit mode of WeChat Business. The first one is to launch advertisements and provide service through WeChat Official Account, which is a B2C mode. This mode has been used by many hospitals, banks, fashion brands, internet companies and personal blogs because the Official Account can access to online payment, location sharing, voice messages, mini-games and so on. It is like a 'mini app', so the company has to hire specific staff to manage the account. By 2015, there are more than 100 million WeChat Official Accounts in this platform.
WeChat salesperson in this mode is to agent and promote products by individual, which belongs to C2C mode. In this mode, individual sellers always post relevant photos and messages of their agent products on the WeChat Moments or WeChat groups and sell products to their WeChat friends. Besides, they develop a friendship with their customers by sending messages in festivals or write comments under their updates on WeChat moments to increase their trust. Also, continuing to communicate with the regular customers raises the 'WOF'(word-of-mouth) communications, which influences decision-making. Some of the WeChat businessman already have an online shop in Taobao, but use WeChat to maintain existing customers.
As more and more people have joined WeChat Business, it has brought many problems. For example, some sellers have begun to sell fake luxury goods such as bags, clothes and watches. Some of them have special channels to obtain high-quality fake luxury products and sell them at a low price. Moreover, some sellers have even disguised themselves as international flight attendants or overseas students to post fake stylish photos on WeChat Moments. They then claim that they can provide overseas purchasing services but sell fake luxury goods at the same price as the true one. Another hot product selling on WeChat is facial masks. Its marketing mode is like that of Amway but most goods are unbranded products which came from illegal factories making excess hormones which could have serious effects on a customer's health. However, it is difficult for customers to defend their rights because a large number of sellers' identities are uncertified. Additionally, the lack of any supervision mechanism in WeChat business also provides chances for criminals to continue this illegal behavior.
In a 2016 campaign, users could upload a paid photo on "Moments" and other users who could pay to see the photo and comment on it. The photos were taken down each night.
In 2014, Burberry partnered with WeChat to create its own WeChat apps around its fall 2014 runway show, giving users live streams from the shows. Another brand, Michael Kors used WeChat to give live updates from their runway show, and later to run a photo contest "Chic Together WeChat campaign".
In 2016, WeChat partnered with 60 Italian companies (WeChat had an office in Milan) who were able to sell their products and services on the Chinese market without having to get a license to operate a business in China. In 2017, Andrea Ghizzoni, European director of Tencent, said that 95 percent of global luxury brands used WeChat.
Currently, WeChat's mobile phone app is available only for Android and iPhone. BlackBerry, Windows Phone, and Symbian phones were supported before. However, as of 22 September 2017, WeChat is no longer working on Windows Phones. The company ceased the development of the app for Windows Phones before the end of 2017. Although Web-based OS X and Windows clients exist, this requires the user to have the app installed on a supported mobile phone for authentication, and neither message roaming nor 'Moments' are provided. Thus, without the app on a supported phone, it is not possible to use the web-based WeChat clients on the computer.
The company also provides WeChat for Web, a web-based client with messaging and file transfer capabilities. Other functions cannot be used on it, such as the detection of nearby people, or interacting with Moments or Official Accounts. To use the Web-based client, it is necessary to first scan a QR code using the phone app. This means it is not possible to access the WeChat network if a user does not possess a suitable smartphone with the app installed.
There have been some reported issues with the Web client. Specifically when using English, some users have experienced autocorrect, autocomplete, auto-capitalization, and auto-delete behavior as they type messages and even after the message was sent. For example, "gonna" was autocorrected to "go", the E's were auto-deleted in "need", "wechat" was auto-capitalized to "Wechat" but not "WeChat", and after the message was sent, "don't" got auto-corrected to "do not". However, the auto-corrected word(s) after the message was sent appeared on the phone app as the user had originally typed it ("don't" was seen on the phone app whereas "do not" was seen on the Web client). Users could translate a foreign language during a conversation and the words were posted on Moments.
Wechat opens up video calls for multiple people not only to one person call.
State surveillance and intelligence gathering
WeChat operates from China under Chinese law, which includes strong censorship provisions and interception protocols. WeChat can access and expose the text messages, contact books, and location histories of its users. Due to WeChat's popularity, the Chinese government uses WeChat as a data source to conduct mass surveillance in China.
States such as India, Australia the United States, and Taiwan fear that the app poses a threat to national or regional security for various reasons. In June 2013, the Indian Intelligence Bureau flagged WeChat for security concerns. India has debated whether or not they should ban WeChat for its possibility in collecting too much personal information and data from its users. In Taiwan, legislators were concerned that the potential exposure of private communications was a threat to regional security.
In 2016, Tencent was awarded a score of zero out of 100 in an Amnesty International report ranking technology companies on the way they implement encryption to protect the human rights of their users. The report placed Tencent last out of a total of 11 companies, including Facebook, Apple, and Google, for the lack of privacy protections built into WeChat and QQ. The report found that Tencent did not make use of end-to-end encryption, which is a system that allows only the communicating users to read the messages. It also found that Tencent did not recognize online threats to human rights, did not disclose government requests for data, and did not publish specific data about its use of encryption.
- To comply with an applicable law or regulations.
- To comply with a court order, subpoena, or other legal process.
- In response to a request by a government authority, law enforcement agency, or similar body.
Users inside and outside of China also have expressed concern for the privacy issues of the app. Human rights activist Hu Jia was jailed for three years for sedition. He speculated that the officials of the Internal Security Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security listened to his voicemail messages that were directed to his friends, repeating the words displayed within the voice mail messages to Hu Jia. Chinese authorities have further accused the WeChat app of threatening individual safety. China Central Television (CCTV), a state-run broadcaster, featured a piece in which WeChat was described as an app that helped criminals due to its location-reporting features. CCTV gave an example of such accusations through reporting the murder of a single woman who, after he attempted to rob her, was murdered by a man she met on WeChat. The location-reporting feature, according to reports, was the reason for the man knowing the victim's whereabouts. Authorities within China have linked WeChat to numerous crimes. The city of Hangzhou, for example, reported over twenty crimes related to WeChat in the span of three months.
In 2015, Apple published a list of the top 25 most popular apps infected with the XcodeGhost malware, confirming earlier reports that version 6.2.5 of WeChat for iOS was infected with it. The malware originated in a counterfeit version of Xcode (dubbed "XcodeGhost"), Apple's software development tools, and made its way into the compiled app through a modified framework. Despite Apple's review process, WeChat and other infected apps were approved and distributed through the App Store. Even though some sources claimed that the malware was capable of prompting the user for their account credentials, opening URLs and reading the device's clipboard, Apple responded that the malware was not capable of doing "anything malicious" or transmitting any personally identifiable information beyond "apps and general system information" and that it had no information that suggested that this had happened. Some commentators considered this to be the largest security breach in the App Store's history.
Ban in India
In June 2020, the Government of India banned WeChat along with 58 other apps citing data and privacy issues. Border tensions between India and China earlier in 2020 might have also played a role in the ban. The banned Chinese apps were “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India,” and was "hostile to national security and defense of India", claimed India's Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.
Starting in 2013 reports arose that Chinese-language searches even outside China were being keyword filtered and then blocked. This occurred on incoming traffic to China from foreign countries but also exclusively between foreign parties (the service had already censored its communications within China). In the international example of blocking, a message was displayed on users' screens: "The message "南方周末" your message contains restricted words. Please check it again." These are the Chinese characters for a Guangzhou-based paper called Southern Weekly (or, alternatively, Southern Weekend). The next day Tencent released a statement addressing the issue saying "A small number of WeChat international users were not able to send certain messages due to a technical glitch this Thursday. Immediate actions have been taken to rectify it. We apologize for any inconvenience it has caused to our users. We will continue to improve the product features and technological support to provide a better user experience." WeChat planned to build two different platforms to avoid this problem in the future; one for the Chinese mainland and one for the rest of the world. The problem existed because WeChat's servers were all located in China and thus subjected to its censorship rules.
Following the overwhelming victory of pro-democracy candidates in the 2019 Hong Kong local elections WeChat censored messages related to the election and disabled the accounts of posters in other countries such as U.S. and Canada. Many of those targeted were of Chinese ancestry.
In 2020, WeChat started censoring messages concerning the coronavirus.
Two censorship systems
- Keyword filtering was only enabled for users who registered via phone numbers from mainland China;
- Users did not get notices anymore when messages are blocked;
- Filtering was more strict on group chat;
- Keywords were not static. Some newfound censored keywords were in response to current news events;
- The Internal browser in WeChat blocked Chinese accounts from accessing some websites such as gambling, Falun Gong and critical reports on China. International users were not blocked except for accessing some gambling and pornography websites.
Restricting sharing websites in "Moments"
In 2014, WeChat announced that according to "related regulations", domains of the web pages that want to get shared in WeChat Moments need to get an Internet Content Provider (ICP) license by 31 December 2014 to avoid being restricted by WeChat.
In September 2013 WeChat was blocked in Iran. Authorities cited WeChat Nearby (Friend Radar) and the spread of pornographic content as the reason of censorship.
Because WeChat collects phone data and monitors member activity and because app developers are outside of the country and not cooperating, this software has been blocked, so you can use domestic applications for cheap voice calls, video calls and messaging.
On 4 January 2018, WeChat was unblocked in Iran.
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