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WeChat (Chinese: 微信; pinyin: About this sound Wēixìn; literally: "micro-message") is a Chinese multi-function social media mobile application software developed by Tencent. It was first released in 2011 and as of August 2017, it was one of the largest standalone messaging apps by monthly active users,[9][10] with over 963 million monthly active users.[11][12] It is known as China's "App For Everything" with its many functions and platforms, and has been praised as one of the most innovative apps in the world. [13][14][15][16][17]

WeChat
WeChat-Logo-2015.png
WeChat ScreenShot.png
WeChat Running on Apple iOS 8
Developer(s) Tencent Holdings Limited
Initial release January 21, 2011; 6 years ago (2011-01-21)
Stable release(s) [±]
iOS 6.5.6 / March 27, 2017; 6 months ago (2017-03-27)[1][2]
macOS 2.2.1 / March 23, 2017; 6 months ago (2017-03-23)[3]
Android 6.5.4 / March 8, 2017; 7 months ago (2017-03-08)[4]
Windows 10 Mobile, Windows Phone 8 6.0.8[5]
Symbian V3 4.2 / February 4, 2013; 4 years ago (2013-02-04)[6]
Symbian V5 4.2 / January 17, 2013; 4 years ago (2013-01-17)[7]
Preview release(s)
Android 6.5.7 / March 30, 2017; 6 months ago (2017-03-30)[8]
Development status Active
Operating system Cross-platform
Available in Multilingual (52)
Type Instant messaging client
License Freeware, proprietary
Website www.wechat.com/en/ (International)
weixin.qq.com (China)

In 2017, Wechat started to develop an augmented reality (AR) platform for its ever-expanding services. Its artificial intelligence (AI) team is working on its own 3D rendering engine to create realistic appearance on detailed objects, in smartphone-based AR apps. They’re also developing a simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) technology, which helps calculate the position of virtual objects relative to their environment, enabling AR interactions without the need for markers, such as QR code or a special image.[18]

Contents

HistoryEdit

WeChat began as a project at Tencent Guangzhou Research and Project center in October 2010.[19] The original version of the app, "Weixin", was invented by Xiaolong Zhang, and Ma Huateng, Tencent CEO[20] and was first 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).[21]

By 2012, the number of users reached 100 million and Weixin was re-branded as WeChat for the international market.[22] Since the Weixin has privacy and its independent function, it became popular in the twenty youth and their parents.[23]

WeChat had over 889 million monthly active users in 2016,[24][25][26] 90% of whom were Chinese.[27] For comparison, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp (two other competitive international messaging services better known in the West) had about a billion Monthly Active Users in 2016 but did not offer most of the other services available on WeChat.[10] In 2017 it was reported that more than half of WeChat's users spend over 90 minutes a day on the app.[28]

In September 2017, Wechat started to develop an augmented reality (AR) platform for its ever-expanding services. Its artificial intelligence (AI) team is working on its own 3D rendering engine to create realistic appearance on detailed objects, in smartphone-based AR apps. They’re also developing a simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) technology, which helps calculate the position of virtual objects relative to their environment, enabling AR interactions without the need for markers, such as QR code or a special image.[29]

WeChat received controversy about AI translation. Ann James, an actor, texted the word, "hei laowai", which means "black foreigner". Instead of that, the AI said the N-word. WeChat apolgized after that, stating that they fixed the problem already.[30]

FeaturesEdit

MessagingEdit

WeChat provides text messaging, hold-to-talk voice messaging, broadcast (one-to-many) messaging, video conferencing, video games, sharing of photographs and videos, and location sharing.[31][32] It can 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 those run by Facebook and Tencent QQ.[33] Photographs may also be embellished with filters and captions, and an automatic translation service is available.

WeChat supports different ways of instant message, including text message, voice message, walkie talkie and stickers. Users can send previously saved or live pictures and videos, namecards of other users, coupons, lucky money packages, or current GPS location with friends either individually or in a group chat. WeChat's character stickers, such as Tuzki, resemble and compete with those of LINE, a Japanese messaging application.[34]

Official accountsEdit

WeChat supports users who wish to register as an official account, which enables them to push feeds to subscribers, interact with subscribers and provide them with services. There are three types of official accounts: service account, subscription account and 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.[35] Official accounts of organizations can apply for verified (at cost of 300 RMB), official, public accounts. Official accounts can be used as a platform for services such as hospital pre-registrations,[36] visa renewal[37] or credit card service.[38]

MomentsEdit

Moments is WeChat's brand name for its social feed of friends updates. Moments allows users to post images, post text, post comments, share music (associated with QQ Music or other web based music service), share articles and post "likes." Moments can be also linked to Facebook and Twitter accounts, which can automatically post Moments content directly to these two platforms.[39]

In 2017 WeChat had a policy of a maximum of two advertisements per day per Moments user.[28]

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 mutual friends group. For example, friends from high school are not able to see the comments and likes from friends from 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.[40] Contents posted can be set to "Private", and can be unset at any time. When a post is set to "Private", only the user can view it.

WeChat Pay payment servicesEdit

In China, 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 Wechat payment option. Vetted third parties, known as "official accounts", offer these services by developing lightweight "apps within the app".[41]

WeChat Pay is a digital wallet service incorporated into WeChat, which allows users to perform mobile payments and send money between contacts.[42] 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. Users who link their credit card can only make payments to vendors, it cannot be used to top up WeChat balance. WeChat Pay can be used for digital payments, as well as payments from participating vendors.[43] As of March 2016, WeChat Pay has over 300 million users worldwide. In April 2016, WeChat invested RMB 100 million in accelerating market expansion for WeChat Pay.[44]

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. A month after its launch in 2014, 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. By 2016, 3.2 billion red envelopes were sent over the New Year holiday period, and 409,000 were sent at midnight on Chinese New Year.[43] Jack Ma founder of WeChat's main competitor Alibaba, 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.[43]

In 2016, in order to offset banking charges, WeChat made a service charge if users transferred cash from their WeChat wallet to their debit cards. Each user had a 1,000 Yuan free withdrawal limit. Further withdrawals of more than 1,000 Yuan were charged a 0.1% fee with a minimum of 0.1 Yuan per withdrawal. Other payment functions including red envelopes and transfers were still free.[45]

WeChat Pay's main competitor in China and the market leader in online payments was Alibaba Group's Alipay which had 54% of the electronic payments market in China in the first three months of 2017 versus 40% for WeChat.[46] However Tencent claimed in 2017 that WeChat had 600 million active WeChat mobile payment users versus 450 million for Alibaba's Alipay.[28]

City ServicesEdit

In 2015 WeChat has launched the City Services feature[47] in 27 cities across China, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.[48] City Services included booking doctor appointments, paying electricity fees or traffic fines, and booking transportation.[49]

Heat MapEdit

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, but it is still unproven.[50]

Enterprise WeChatEdit

For work purposes, companies and business communication, a special version of WeChat called Enterprise WeChat (or Qiye Weixin) was launched in 2016. The app is meant to help employees separate work from private life.[51] In addition to the usual chat features, the program lets companies and their employees keep track of annual leave days and expenses that need to be reimbursed, employees can ask for time off or even clock in to show they are at work.[51][52] Security has been upgraded and companies must register before their employees can use the service.[53][54]

WeChat Mini ProgramEdit

In 2017, WeChat has launched a feature called the "Mini Program".[55] Consumers could, for example, scan the QR code using their mobile phone at a supermarket counter. The Mini Program app paid the supermarket bill through the users mobile wallet.[21] There was no need to install additional applications on mobile devices and business owners could create mini apps that sat in the WeChat's ecosystem.[56] Wechat's parent company Tencent is planning to create its own smart-phone based AR (Augmented Reality) platform with Tech in Asia, which might be launched in the future.[1]

Friend seekEdit

WeChat allows 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.[57]

WeChat IndexEdit

In March 2017, Tencent released a new feature of Wechat: Wechat Index. As a search term inserted the WeChat Index page, users are eligible to check the popularity of this term in past 7, 30, and 90 days.[58] The data are essentially mined from those countless contents published among official WeChat accounts. Metrics such as social sharing, likes and reads are taken accounted into the evaluation.[59]

News Feed and SearchEdit

In May 2017 Tencent started news feed and search functions for its WeChat app. The Financial Times reported this was a "direct challenge to Chinese search engine Baidu".[60]

WeChat OutEdit

In January 2016, Tencent launched WeChat Out, a VOIP service allowing users to call mobile phones and landlines around the world. The feature allows for purchasing of 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.[61][62]

CensorshipEdit

Global censorshipEdit

Starting in 2013 reports arose that Chinese language searches even outside China were being keyword filtered and then blocked. This occurred both 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 simplified 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 Chinese mainlanders 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.[63][64][65]

Two censorship systemsEdit

In 2016, the Citizen Lab published a report saying that WeChat is using different censorship policies in mainland China and other areas. They found that:[66]

  1. Keyword filtering is only enabled for users who registered via phone numbers from mainland China;
  2. Users won't get notices any more when messages are blocked;
  3. Filtering is more strict on group chat;
  4. Keywords are not static. Some newfound censored keywords are in response to current news events;
  5. Internal browser in WeChat will block China accounts from accessing some websites such as gambling, Falun Gong and critical reports on China. International users are not blocked except accessing some gambling and pornography websites.

Restricting sharing websites in "Moments"Edit

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) licence by Dec 31, 2014 to avoid being restricted by WeChat.[67]

Digital marketingEdit

Marketing historyEdit

WeChat’s advertising has significantly affected China’s society, and helped drive digital marketing strategies. Many campaigns have been launched to attract new users and retain existing ones since 2011. In 2015, one campaign was about reviewing the user’s life over the past year and was timed to coincide with the fourth WeChat anniversary. Users could trace their history such as the first friend on WeChat or how many "Likes" they received that year. The campaign created value with the digital marketing, by relating products and customers together.[68] Users appreciated this campaign because it witnessed their growth along happiness and sadness. In another major campaign in 2016, users could upload a paid photo on "Moments" and only someone willing to pay for it could see the photo and comment on it. The photos were taken down each night.[69]

WeChat has been used by Chinese companies as part of a social media digital marketing strategy, to share information and boost their brands.[70][71]

Wechat paid advertisingEdit

Tencent tested paid advertising on 2015, January.[72] Companies are required to have a Chinese business license and Chinese bank account in order to use the advertising services.[73]

Digital marketing in ChinaEdit

High service and low costEdit

Compared with Facebook and other social media, WeChat allows businesses to open an account and gain a following on the platform for free.[69] Businesses can send messages to the followers and get frequently links with them.

Huge consumer baseEdit

WeChat has a large number and wide range of users with differing ages. Business that put advertisements on WeChat have a wide range of potential customers.[68]

Content marketingEdit

Connecting with WeChat’s huge customer base can be the determining factor to turn users from prospect into customers by leaving a lasting impression about brands and by sending content to educate the users.[74][75]

Key Opinion LeadersEdit

Many Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) (people who are influential and have established significant followings on social media) are active on the WeChat.[76] KOLs have been particularly effective for promoting branding for Chinese companies who have recruited and developed relationships with KOLs as the latter can help build and e-reputation and share the information about the products. For example, in 2016 L'Oréal China cooperated with Papi Jiang (a popular KOL and blogger who has over 10 million followers) to promote their products. Over one million people watched her first video promoting L'Oreal's beauty brand MG.[77][78]

Security concernsEdit

WeChat operates from China under Chinese law, which includes strong censorship provisions and interception protocols.[79] WeChat contains the ability to access the text messages and contact books of its users and users' locations through the GPS feature.[79]

Countries and regions such as India, the United States, China and Taiwan all fear that the app poses a threat to national or regional security for various reasons.[79][80][81] In Taiwan, legislators were concerned that the potential exposure of private communications was a threat to regional security.[79] 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.[81][82][83]

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 justified the rating because it found that Tencent does not recognize online threats to human rights, does not make use of end-to-end encryption, does not disclose government requests for data, and does not publish specific data about its use of encryption.[84][85]

A September 2017 update to the platform's privacy policy details that log data collected by WeChat includes search terms, profiles visited, and content that has been viewed within the app. Additionally, metadata related to the communications between WeChat users - including call times, durations, and location information - is also collected. This information, which is used by Tencent for targeted advertising and marketing purposes, may be disclosed to representatives of the Chinese government:[86][87]

  1. To comply with applicable law or regulations.
  2. To comply with a court order, subpoena, or other legal process.
  3. In response to a request by a government authority, law enforcement agency, or similar body.

ChinaEdit

Users in 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 speculates that the guobao officials, or the internal security bureau, 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 (short CCTV), a state run broadcaster, featured a piece in which WeChat was described as an app that allows criminals an easy way in due to its location-reporting features. CCTV gave an example of such accusations through reporting the murder of a single woman who was murdered by a man she met on WeChat after he attempted to rob her. The location-reporting feature, according to reports, was the reason for the man's knowing of 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.[79][88]

Supporters of the app have argued that WeChat is safe overall. Martin Johnson, a founder of the anti-censorship site GreatFire.org, stated that WeChat was a less of a potential threat than the app Weibo which is modelled on WeChat's focus on messaging between well-known acquaintances and social groups. Doug Young, a Shanghai-based author of the Party Line, noted that while the app might practice self-censorship within China, it would not, however, practice the same self-censorship outside China. Doing so, according to Young, would affect the app's image and possibly hamper its global expansion.[89]

XcodeGhost malwareEdit

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.[90][91][92] 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.[93] 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,[94] 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.[90] Some commentators considered this to be the largest security breach in the App Store's history.[93]

IranEdit

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.

The Committee for Determining Instances of Criminal Content (a working group under the supervision of the attorney general) website FAQ says:[95][96]

"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."

Mobile phone applicationsEdit

WeChat has a mobile phone app which is available on Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, and Symbian phones. Web-based OS X[97] and Windows[98] clients also exist. This however requires the user to have the app installed on a supported mobile phone for authentication, and neither message roaming nor 'Moments' are provided.[99]

Web clientEdit

WeChat provides WebWeChat, a Web-based client with messaging and file transfer capabilities. WeChat is largely an Android app, although it also provides a WeChat app for Apple Mac users. 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 get onto the WeChat network if you do not possess a suitable smartphone with the app installed.[100]

WeChat could be accessed on Windows using BlueStacks until December 2014.[101][102] Beginning then, WeChat blocks Android emulators and accounts that have signed in from emulators may be frozen.[103]

There have been some reported issues with the Web client.[104] 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.[105]

CollaborationsEdit

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.[106] 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".[107] Several International brands used WeChat as a marketing tool in China but made limited use of other WeChat features such as customer service.[108]

In 2015 WeChat collaborated with Cogobuy's subsidiary IngDan Ltd[109] for the "WeChat Hardware Competition". Cogobuy and WeChat established an "Internet of Things" (IoT) ecosystem partnership with over one million followers the same year.[110] By forming a closed loop ecosystem, Cogobuy served each entrepreneur and innovator, even the entire IoT industry. IngDan Ltd provided the consolidated support with supply chain services and resource connectivity to assist hardware innovators to produce their products, as well as the platform to promote their products to WeChat followers through the collaboration.[111]

In 2015, WeChat partnered with eBay to together bring the eBay inventory onto Wechat store for buyers in China using Chinese Yuan. It was an extension of eBay's Customer-to-Customer marketing but the experience was through WeChat's application using Tenpay/Weixin Pay and inventory was surfaced as daily deals.

In 2016 WeChat partnered with 60 Italian (WeChat had an office in Milan) companies who were able to sell their products and services on the Chinese market without having to get a licence to operate a business in China.[112] WeChat partnered with an Italian company Digital Retex[113] to help companies set up their brands on the WeChat platform. In 2017, Andrea Ghizzoni, European director of Tencent, said that 95% of global luxury brands used WeChat.[112]

In 2017 WeChat partnered with theAsianIR (WeChat has an office in Singapore) marketing agency to sell their platform's features to the international market. WeChat partnered with a Singaporean company theAsianIR [114] to help companies set up their brands on the WeChat platform using a proprietory viral word-of-mouth marketing system, which recruits influencers and agents at no overheads to the companies.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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