WeChat begins to open its ‘walled garden' to rivals by allowing links in one-to-one chats, heeding Beijing's order

WeChat begins to open its ‘walled garden’ to rivals by allowing links in one-to-one chats, heeding Beijing’s order

WeChat, the ubiquitous social media platform operated by Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings, on Friday started to allow links to its rivals to be shared in one-to-one chats to comply with Beijing’s new requirements on Big Tech to unblock links.

The order by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology for the country’s technology platforms to bring down the walls between them forms part of Beijing’s wider effort to encourage competition and curb monopolistic behaviour. At the same time, China’s internet market remains closed to foreign service providers such as Google, Facebook and Twitter.

WeChat users can now access external links in the one-to-one chat channels after they upgrade the app to the latest version. For external links in big chat groups the company will develop more functions so that users can make their own choices, according to a statement published on the company’s official WeChat account on Friday.

To ensure “high-quality content on the platform and a good user experience”, WeChat said its principles for managing external links included preventing behaviour that violates laws and regulations, prohibiting behaviour that obtains excessive private user information and endangers network and data security, as well as excessive marketing. The platform will also give users more rights to make their own choices.

In addition, the company will build a reporting channel so that users can report links that violate laws and regulations, as well as create a rating system for external links, it said.

China’s internet industry has historically been characterised by “walled gardens”, where major companies built barriers around their ecosystems, blocking links to the services of rivals. Tencent’s WeChat has in the past banned some external links to competitors including e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding and ByteDance. While on Alibaba’s Taobao and Tmall marketplaces, users cannot pay with Tencent’s payment service WeChat Pay. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

The new measures come at a time when the Chinese government is urging internet companies to conduct self-rectification measures to unblock external website links and promote “positive” content.

The crackdown on link-blocking is part of a six-month internet clean-up campaign by MIIT which began in July, under which Beijing has targeted industry problems including disturbances of market order, infringements of user rights, threats to data security and unauthorised internet connections.

“Blocking website links is one of the priority issues of our campaign, and ensuring normal access to legitimate websites is a basic requirement for the development of the internet,” Zhao Zhiguo, MIIT spokesman, said at a press conference on Monday, adding that the ministry has received numerous complaints on the issue.

After the MIIT ordered “self rectification” measures to unblock external links, Tencent said it supported the decision and would “make the necessary changes in phases”. Alibaba said it will “fully comply” with the new mandate, and ByteDance said it will not delay implementation.

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