WeChat rival receives RMB 150 million funding but also criticism for racy content

WeChat’s fast-rising rival Bullet Messenger (子弹短信) has received RMB 150 million ($22 million) in funding after its first week of operation, according to the company’s founder.

The announcement was made by Smartisan CEO Luo Yonghao on Weibo yesterday (August 28) after the platform had risen to become the most downloaded social iOS app in the Chinese App Store. The app—made by Smartisan-backed startup Kuairu (快如)—beat both its rival WeChat and the widely popular live streaming app Douyin (Tik Tok).

However, the app’s rise might not continue to be as fast as a bullet. Some have already pointed out that it contains content that would not be permitted on WeChat, particularly as the government is cracking down on “vulgar” content.

The app has also been criticized for it its lack of security. Some have noted that it does not offer basic protection for users, including two-factor authentification, end-to-end encryption, and other privacy settings.

“End-to-end encryption should be the basis of messaging apps nowadays,” Wang Boyuan, editor of TechCrunch China, told TechNode. “It should be a better, safer [app] if we need a replacement for WeChat.”

Similar views were expressed on Weibo, with one user saying that if the company does not deal with the proliferation of illicit content and address privacy and security issues, its popularity would wane as quickly as it rose.

Luo previously stated that the idea of users deleting WeChat in favor of Bullet Messenger is unrealistic. However, Smartisan is taking a different route by focusing on chatting versus function-heavy WeChat. The app puts much emphasis on its voice-to-text option, a function that WeChat has had for a while but which many users found inconvenient to use.

The app has shown interest in offering payments services to make it more competitive. Earlier this week Luo also said the company was looking to integrate Alipay’s functionality, the biggest competitor to WeChat Pay.

It also has a news feed integrated with headlines from Jinri Toutiao and Tencent but does not allow users to post like in WeChat Moments, a function similar to Facebook’s feed.

China’s internet population is enormous. The country has nearly 800 million internet users and 753 million individuals using the internet on mobile devices, according to the 2018 China Internet Report. Chinese tech companies are vying to gain a share of the market. However, a small player like Bullet Messenger is unlikely to make a dent in WeChat’s share.