Chinese state-run companies restrict employees’ use of WeChat

Business & Technology

Chinese regulators are targeting Tencent. This week, the government restricted the use of the company’s apps in state enterprises and pried open WeChat’s walled garden.

wechat
Illustration for SupChina by Derek Zheng

In the past week, Tencent has been pummeled by Beijing’s latest round of back-to-back regulatory actions aimed at how messaging app WeChat handles data.

  • Citing security concerns, WeChat groups are being shut down by some state-run companies. The app, which has over a billion monthly active users, is often used for work.
  • The companies also warned employees against using WeChat for work-related communications in general, though sources say the change to enterprise chat apps from Tencent and Alibaba will be gradual.

However: WeChat restrictions at work are noteworthy, but not without precedent. International banks often ban the use of personal phones and messaging apps at work, and China’s state-owned companies have banned the use of other products before (including Teslas).

  • Amid Tencent’s presumed and confirmed data violations, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology put out a notice (in Chinese) last Wednesday that the company now requires government permission to update or launch any apps.
  • One exception, it seems, is a WeChat update yesterday that allows links from competitors like ByteDance’s Douyin to be shared and opened directly in WeChat for the first time, further dismantling the app’s “walled garden.”

The context: The government’s main concern about WeChat is twofold: Tencent has too much data, and may not be protecting it well enough. Earlier this year a Tencent executive was held by authorities for allegedly turning over personal data collected by WeChat to a disgraced senior law-enforcement official.

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