WeChat Running on Apple iOS 8
|Developer(s)||Tencent Holdings Limited|
|Initial release||January 21, 2011|
iOS 6.3.31 (November 17, 2016) [±]
OS X 2.1.0 (December 5, 2016) [±]
|Available in||Multilingual (52)|
|Type||Instant messaging client|
WeChat (Chinese: 微信; pinyin: Wēixìn; literally: "micro message") is a cross-platform instant messaging service developed by Tencent in China, first released in January 2011. It is one of the largest standalone messaging apps by monthly active users. As of May 2016, WeChat has over a billion created accounts, 700 million active users; with more than 70 million outside of China (as of December 2015).
The app is available on Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Phone and Symbian phones. Web-based OS X and Windows clients also exist; these however require the user to have the app installed on a supported mobile phone for authentication, and neither message roaming nor 'Moments' are provided.
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. It can exchange contacts with people nearby via Bluetooth, as well as providing various features for contacting people at random if desired (if these are open to it, 找一找), next to integration with social networking services such as those run by Facebook and Tencent QQ. Photographs may also be embellished with filters and captions, and a machine translation service is available.
In China, users who have provided bank account information may use the app to pay bills, order goods and services, send money to other users, and pay in stores. Vetted third parties, known as "official accounts", offer these services by developing lightweight "apps within the app".
For work purposes, companies and business communication, a special version of WeChat called Enterprise WeChat (or Qiye Weixin) was launched in April 2016. The app is meant to help employees separate work from private life. Except 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. Security has been upgraded and companies must register before their employees can use the service.
WeChat began as a project at Tencent Guangzhou Research and Project center in October 2010. The original version of the app, "Weixin", was invented by Xiaolong Zhang, and named by Ma Huateng, Tencent CEO.
WeChat had 500 million Monthly Active Users in March 2015 and 700 million in March 2016 90% of whom were Chinese. For comparison, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp (two other competitive international messaging services better-known in the West) had about 1,000 million Monthly Active Users in the first quarter 2016 but did not offer most of the other services available on WeChat.
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.
WeChat supports users to register as an official account, which enables them to push feeds to subscribers, interact with subscribers and provide them with services. By the end of 2014, the number of WeChat official accounts had reached 8 million. Official accounts of organizations can apply for verified, official, public accounts. Official accounts can be used as a platform for services such as hospital pre-registrations, visa renewal or credit card service.
WeChat supports users to post image and text, share music (associated with QQ Music or any web based music service) and article, as well as comment and "like" in the Moments. Privacy is extremely important in WeChat, 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 mutual friends, for example, your friends from high school won't be able to see the comments and likes from your friends in university. The Moments can be also linked to Facebook and Twitter account, which can automatically post Moments content directly to these two platforms. when user post their moments, they can separate their friends into a few groups, user can decide whether this moment can be seen by particular groups of people. Contents posted can be set to "Private", and can be unset at any time. When a post is set to "Private", no one else other than yourself can view it.
WeChat supports payment and money transfer, which allows their users to peer-to-peer transfer and electronic bill payment. Every WeChat user has their own WeChat Payment account. The beginning balance is nil for all new users, the currency of the balance is in CNY. Users can acquire 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. Many stores in China (including Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan) accepts WeChat Payment as a payment option, this includes online payments, mini markets, supermarkets, shops, vending machines, metro, and so on and so forth. In Chinese Tradition, Red envelope is given to relatives and friends in a way of congratulating them or a way of greeting on certain big holidays like Chinese New Year. Ever since WeChat introduced "Electronic Red envelope" in 2014, it has changed the way people give Red envelope in China. In addition to China, the payment service is offered in parts of Southeast Asia, Europe, North America and Oceania. WeChat Payment also competes with Alipay. WeChat allows users to tip their favourite posts as well. As of March 2016, WeChat Payment has over 300 million users worldwide. In April 2016, WeChat invested RMB 100 million in accelerating the market expansion of WeChat Payment.
WeChat has launched the City Services feature in 27 cities across China, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. City Services include booking doctor appointments, paying electricity fees or traffic fines, and booking transportation.
In 2015, WeChat revealed 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.
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.
Starting January 9, 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 reading "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 has plans 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 exists because WeChat's servers are currently all located in China and thus subjected to its censorship rules.
Two Censorship Systems
On Nov 30, 2016, the Citizen Lab published a report saying that WeChat is using different censorship policies in mainland China and other areas. They found that:
- Keyword filtering is only enabled for users who registered via phone numbers from mainland China;
- Users won't get notices any more when messages are blocked;
- Filtering is more strict on group chat;
- Keywords are not static. Some newfound censored keywords are in response to current news events;
- 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"
On Dec 12, 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 ICP license by Dec 31, 2014 to avoid being restricted by WeChat.
WeChat operates from China under Chinese law, which includes strong censorship provisions and interception protocols. WeChat contains the ability to access the text messages and contact books of its users and users’ locations through the GPS feature. 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. In Taiwan, legislators were concerned that the potential exposure of private communications was a threat to regional security. 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.
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 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, has reported over twenty crimes related to WeChat in the span of three months.
Supporters of the app argue that WeChat is overall safe. Martin Johnson, a founder of the anti-censorship site GreatFire.org, states that WeChat is a less potential threat than the app Weibo based on WeChat’s focus on messaging between well-known acquaintances and social groups. Doug Young, a Shanghai-based author of the Party Line, notes that while the app may practice self-censorship within China, it will not, however, practice the same censorship ideals outside of China. Doing so, according to Young, would affect the app's image and possibility hamper its global expansion.
Indiatimes had an article on why they thought WeChat had plentiful features and was a good alternative.
On 24 September 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.
WeChat provides a Web-based client, with messaging and file transfer capabilities, and it provides 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.
WeChat could be accessed on Windows using BlueStacks until December 2014. Beginning then, WeChat blocks Android emulators and accounts that have signed in from emulators may be frozen.
There are some reported issues with the Web client. Specifically when using English, some users have experienced autocorrect, autocomplete, autocapitalization, and autodelete behavior as they type messages, and even after the message is sent. For example, "gonna" gets autocorrected to "go", the E's get autodeleted in "need", "wechat" gets autocapitalized to "Wechat" but not "WeChat", and after the message is sent, "don't" gets autocorrected to "do not". However, the autocorrected word(s) after the message is sent appear on the phone app as the user originally typed it ("don't" is seen on the phone app whereas "do not" is seen on the Web client). Users can translate foreign language during the conversation and the words posted on moments. However, it is basically a useless function because the words after translation are full of mistakes.
In 2015 WeChat collaborated with Cogobuy's subsidiary IngDan Ltd for the "WeChat Hardware Competition". Cogobuy and WeChat successfully established an IoT ecosystem partnership with over one million followers as of February 2015. By forming a closed loop ecosystem, Cogobuy serves each entrepreneur and innovator, even the entire IoT industry. IngDan Ltd provides 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 there over one million WeChat followers through the collaboration. International brands also use WeChat as their customer service tool
In February 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 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 C2C marketing but the experience was through WeChat's application using Tenpay/Weixin Pay and inventory was surfaced as daily deals.
- Comparison of instant messaging clients
- Tencent Holdings
- Internet censorship in China
- Tinder (app)
- Momo (software)
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1. App Store has been noted 12+, which means download only for twelve years and older (for Apple ID holder).
2. iOS version available in iPhone only but user can run in iPad.
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