What happened: Beijing’s intellectual property court has accepted a case from Tencent against the operator of an app that automatically grabs cash from WeChat’s social red envelope feature, known as hongbao, as well as a platform that hosts the app. Tencent argued that the app has harmed the value of the WeChat feature, which normally requires users to physically tap a hongbao to receive money. Using the software, users can “snatch” cash without opening WeChat. By monitoring chat logs for mentions of red envelopes, as well as the circulation of money in-app, the software violated user privacy, Tencent added. The tech titan demanded that the software’s operators and Android app store Wandoujia stop publicizing and allowing downloads of the app, publish apologies in various media outlets, and pay RMB 50 million in compensation.
Why it’s important: In arguing that the app harmed the value of hongbao, Tencent made the case that the feature has game-like aspects: since the red envelopes contain a limited amount of money, users often must compete against each other to receive a share. That argument hearkens back to Tencent’s long-running campaign against cheaters on various game titles like “League of Legends.” Given the popularity of its offerings, Tencent’s entertainment empire may be fighting a never-ending battle: as long as competition is fierce, incentive to game the system will persist. In addition, some experts argue that certain cheating behaviors in gaming fall into a legal gray area, and may be difficult to prosecute. If it wins the hongbao case, Tencent may set new precedents for internet companies’ ability to punish those perceived to infringe on their virtual property.