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Facebook to Look Like China’s Ex-Messaging App ‘WeChat’ in Future

Zuckerberg outlined his vision to give people ways to communicate privately, by stitching together Facebook's various services so users can contact each other across all of the apps.

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FILE- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is seen during a keynote speech in San Jose, California, May 1, 2018. VOA

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is taking the social media company in a new direction by focusing on messaging. Chinese tech giant Tencent got there years ago with its app WeChat.

Zuckerberg outlined his vision to give people ways to communicate privately, by stitching together Facebook’s various services so users can contact each other across all of the apps.

That sounds strikingly similar to WeChat, which has become essential for daily life in China. WeChat, or Weixin as it’s known in Chinese, combines functions and services that in the West are done by a number of separate companies — think of Facebook and its Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram services combined with PayPal and Uber.

WeChat, launched in 2011, has the usual chat features — instant messaging and voice and video calling, though it doesn’t employ top-notch encryption like Facebook’s Whatsapp. Here’s a look at what else it does.

Mobile money

The WeChat Pay digital wallet is one big reason the app has become an indispensable part of life for people in China. By linking a credit card or bank account, users can pay for almost anything: movie tickets, food delivery orders, and subway and bus tickets.

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FILE – A WeChat logo is displayed on a mobile phone as a woman walks past, July 21, 2016. VOA

You can split restaurant bills with your friends, pay your electricity bill, store digital coupons, and donate to charities. There’s a “quick pay” function that lets users scan a matrix barcode to pay instead of pulling out cash or a payment card.

You can also hail a ride from Didi Chuxing, China’s equivalent of Uber.

And in a uniquely Chinese touch, WeChat users can send each other virtual “hong bao” or “red packets,” money that is traditionally gifted in red envelopes during the Lunar New Year holiday.

Social

The app hosts group chats where users can discuss topics like sports, technology, social issues, investment ideas, celebrities, breaking news and beyond. WeChat Moments is a scrolling social media feed where users can write posts and share photos and videos.

The app rolled out a new feature this year, Time Capsule, that removes user videos after 24 hours, in an apparent attempt to mimic Facebook’s Stories feature.

Users can also send friends digital stickers, get access to online games and find out who’s nearby by shaking their phone.

Companies and organizations both inside and outside China can use the app for marketing by setting up an official account. Travel booking platform AirBnb, luxury goods company Chanel and Chinese tech giant Huawei are among brands with a presence on WeChat.

The Chinese model

WeChat and Weixin had nearly 1.1 billion users as of September, up 2.3 percent from the previous quarter and 10 percent from the previous year, according to its most recent quarterly earnings report.

It is wildly popular in mainland China and less so in other countries, which is unsurprising because the communist leaders in Beijing have blocked its citizens from accessing Facebook and other Silicon Valley services for years.

But there’s one thing that WeChat doesn’t let users do: Speak freely. Politically sensitive posts are regularly scrubbed from the service, illustrating how the app has become a key part of China’s censorship regime because of its huge user base and outsize social influence. Hong Kong University researchers found that about 11,000 articles were removed from WeChat last year, a number that doesn’t include posts blocked before publication by automatic keyword filters.

ALSO READ: Interoperability of Facebook Apps Could Work Only on Android: CEO Mark Zuckerberg

WeChat also lacks so-called end-to-end encryption, considered the gold standard for privacy and used by Facebook and other services like Signal and Apple’s iMessages.

Chinese dissidents and activists have long suspected that authorities are able to monitor what they’ve been saying on the app. The company, however, has denied it keeps a record of user chats. (VOA)

Next Story

Facebook Apps Helped EU Firms Generate 208 bn Euros in Sales

The study also found that female-founded businesses, in particular, credit social media with helping them to start and grow their businesses

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The social media application, Facebook is displayed on Apple's App Store, July 30, 2019. VOA

Facebook apps have helped businesses in the European Union (EU) generate sales corresponding to an estimated 208 billion euros last year – resulting in nearly 3.1 million jobs, the social networking giant said in a new report.

According to Facebook, around 25 million businesses in the European Union, mostly small businesses, are using its services each month.

“Businesses said that using Facebook apps helped them generate an estimated 98 billion euros in exports last year. Of these exports, 58 billion euros are sales within the EU and 40 billion euros are sales to the rest of the world,” Nicola Mendelsohn, Vice-President for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Facebook, said on Monday.

To understand the true extent of Facebook’s impact on the European economy, the company commissioned a study by Copenhagen Economics, one of the leading economic firms in Europe. The study surveyed over 7,700 businesses across all industries and sizes in 15 countries.

“This shows the critical role social media plays in driving sales for businesses across Europe. This is particularly true for small and medium sized businesses,” Mendelsohn added.

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The Facebook mobile app on an Android smartphone. Wikimedia Commons

Six in 10 companies said Facebook apps are important in lowering marketing costs and a similar number said Facebook apps are important in improving customer service.

“Six in 10 businesses using Facebook apps report them as helpful to enter markets, and 7 in 10 businesses using Facebook apps are exporting to other countries compared to 5 in 10 non-users,” the report mentioned.

Also Read: Skills Required To Become An Information Security Analyst

The study also found that female-founded businesses, in particular, credit social media with helping them to start and grow their businesses.

“Fifty-eight per cent of female-founded businesses surveyed said that Facebook apps are important for enabling them to start businesses, while 65 per cent said it helped grow their revenue,” said the report. (IANS)