Bytedance executive says WeChat’s monopoly is detrimental for internet users

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A Bytedance executive has accused popular messaging app WeChat of monopolizing China’s social media landscape to the detriment of internet users. The call comes shortly after the Tencent-owned messaging giant vowed to escalate its restrictions on link sharing within its app.

Li Liang, vice president of Bytedance, said in a post on the company’s content aggregation app Jinri Toutiao (in Chinese) that it is reasonable for WeChat to ban its competitors, but it should not claim to be kind if it is slandering its opponents. Li was referencing a speech by WeChat creator Allen Zhang in which he implied companies can choose to be kind rather than “smart,” and not spoil their users with advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence.

Tencent was not immediately available for comment.

Li’s comments follow a WeChat announcement from Jan. 26 (in Chinese), which censured Jinri Toutiao and Bytedance-owned Watermelon video, among others, for “severely damaging user experience” on WeChat’s News Feed-like feature, Moments. WeChat said the companies attracted users by encouraging them to spread promotional links with their contacts in return for cash rewards.

WeChat said it would take immediate action to block infringing links within its app, and that it would impose stricter punishments on repeat offenders.

The dispute between Bytedance and Tencent has escalated over the course of a year, as the two companies vie for the attention of China’s internet population. Tencent has blocked users from directly sharing Douyin content on its messaging app since March 2018. The ban resulted in a public spat between the founders of Bytedance and Tencent on WeChat Moments.

Speculation that WeChat had blocked the use of its app as a user registration channel for Douyin has circulated on Chinese internet since Jan. 22. According to Chinese reports, the move came as a result of Douyin’s alleged misuse of WeChat user data it had acquired through WeChat registrations on its platform.

The company immediately denied the allegations, saying it isn’t possible for the video platform to access WeChat user data as a third-party application. It then vowed to take legal action against those spreading disinformation in an effort to “fight against rumors and clean up cyberspace.”