Employees of social e-commerce platform Pinduoduo have accused Alibaba of blocking their personal Taobao accounts as well as those belonging to family members in an open letter posted on Chinese microblogging site Weibo on Wednesday. 

Why it matters: Relations between Chinese e-commerce apps are growing more contentious as growth slows and competition intensifies. The issue of “forced exclusivity,” a practice where platforms force sellers or users to use only their platform or services, has been a common complaint among industry players.

  • China’s market regulators in November reminded more than 20 e-commerce players that forcing sellers into an exclusive agreement with one marketplace is illegal.  

Details: Weibo user “PDD Lefu,” a self-identified customer service manager at Pinduoduo, said in a public letter that several Pinduoduo employees received alerts from their personal Taobao accounts on Wednesday, warning them that the app they are using are not accessible until March 28.

  • PDD Lefu said in the letter that this was an extension of Alibaba’s “forced exclusivity,” targeting Pinduoduo employees individually.
  • She points out that the block was also affecting employees of Chinese artificial intelligence startup Yitu, which shares IP addresses with Pinduoduo since the two companies are both located in the Jinhongqiao International office building in Shanghai. 
  • ‘You wouldn’t know until you try. IPs at my company Tenga were also blocked. Is it because we are located in the same building?” (our translation) another Weibo user, “Malanshandeshan,” said in a comment on PDD Lefu’s post. 
  • Users on Zhihu, a Quora-like query platform, said in a post that Pinduoduo staff, current and former, have been blocked from certain services on another Alibaba platform, Juhuasuan, including promotional discounts and coupons.
  • Juhuasuan responded in a post on Weibo that the platform is open to all users, but “says no” to all kinds of unruly practices. It confirmed that it blocked certain users to curb unscrupulous and disruptive practices on the platform.
  • Juhuasuan said in the post that it had spotted a group of web crawlers and discount scams under the disguise of regular users two years ago. They usually feature unclear identification and a similar registration location.
  • Alibaba did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Context: Pinduoduo and its rival Alibaba have been in a years-long public spat over the subject of “forced exclusivity.”

  • “Intensified” forced exclusivity efforts from rivals has weighed on Pinduoduo’s performance, according to the company.

Read more: New law brings structure, discipline to the willful world of Chinese e-commerce

Emma Lee is Shanghai-based tech writer, covering startups and tech happenings in China and Asia in general. We are looking for stories related to tech and China. Reach her at lixin@technode.com. More by Emma Lee