A webpage that warns users of "malicious links" on WeChat.
Screenshot of a webpage that warns users of “malicious links” on WeChat. (Image credit: TechNode)

TikTok owner Bytedance said Saturday that Tencent’s popular instant messaging platform WeChat has started blocking links to its enterprise messaging app and productivity tool Feishu.

Why it matters: The dispute signals intensifying competition between the two companies as Bytedance expands its businesses to instant messaging and gaming, segments that Tencent has dominated for years.

  • WeChat has a history of blocking links inside its app that belong to its competitors including Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms Taobao and Tmall, Bytedance’s short video apps Douyin and Huoshan, and Baidu’s short video offering Haokan.
  • Feishu, known in overseas markets as Lark, was officially launched in April and is a rival to WeChat’s enterprise productivity app, WeChat Work.

Details: WeChat began to block links from Feishu on Friday afternoon, making links to the app’s website and online conferencing tool inaccessible when linking from within the messaging app, Bytedance said in a statement sent to TechNode on Sunday. The company first aired its grievances on its popular news aggregator platform, Jinri Toutiao, on Saturday.

  • The warning webpage which originally displayed in WeChat when users try to access Feishu links said that “many users complained” about the links because they contained “content that lures users into sharing and following,” and thus “access has been blocked to maintain a safe internet environment,” according to the statement.
  • “WeChat’s behavior has severely impacted on our users’ work efficiency and experience at a critical time as enterprises resume operations,” Bytedance said.
  • WeChat told TechNode that the warning page had been updated. The new message now reads much more neutrally: “If you want to browse this page, please copy the following url and use your browser to access it,” followed with the relative link for users to click.
  • The blocking of Feishu links is related to a WeChat external link management rule (in Chinese) the platform last modified in October, according to WeChat. The rule bans webpages that incent users to share on WeChat by providing awards, or that obtain users’ personal information without consent.

Behind the scenes: The blocked links were first reported by Chinese tech news outlet 36Kr on Saturday. However, the article has now been taken down from 36Kr’s website.

  • WeChat threatened to ban 36Kr’s official account on the platform after the tech media outlet published the report, according to a statement signed by Yang Jibin, a senior director at Bytedance, the company confirmed.
  • A WeChat spokesperson told TechNode that Yang’s claims were “not true” and that 36Kr’s official account was suspended because it had “repeatedly violated the platform’s rules.”

Context: WeChat has a history of aggressively defending its interests, and has engaged in a number of legal battles with rivals.

  • On Friday, WeChat also permanently banned the official account belonging to News Lab, a popular blog, maintained by Fang Kecheng, an assistant professor of journalism and communications at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a veteran journalist.
  • In April, a Chinese lawyer sued Tencent under the Anti-Monopoly Law of China over WeChat’s practice of blocking links from other apps, according to Abacus.
  • The lawyer said that by blocking those links, Tencent is “effectively turning down his transaction request” and therefore infringing on his communication rights.
  • Tencent argued in a December hearing at the Beijing Intellectual Property Court that the terms and conditions in its user agreements allow it to decide which kind of links can be presented in the app.

Updated: The story has been updated with comments from WeChat in the “Details” section.

Writing about semiconductors and telecommunications.

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