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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

Experts Urging Users to Change their Facebook Passwords and Turn on Two-Factor Authentication

Facebook in a blog post on Thursday said that it had fixed the issue and will be notifying everyone whose passwords it found stored this way

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Facebook in a blog post on Thursday said that it had fixed the issue and will be notifying everyone whose passwords it found stored this way. Pixabay

After a report revealed around 200-600 million Facebook users may have had their account passwords stored in plain text and searchable by over 20,000 Facebook employees, cybersecurity experts are urging users to change their passwords and turn on the two-factor authentication (2FA).

So far the inquiry has uncovered archives with plain text user passwords dating back to 2012, according to the report published this week by KrebsOnSecurity, a blog run by journalist Brian Krebs.

Facebook in a blog post on Thursday said that it had fixed the issue and will be notifying everyone whose passwords it found stored this way.

“It’s perfectly possible that no passwords at all fell into the hands of any crooks as a result of this. But if any passwords did get into the wrong hands then you can expect them to be abused,” said Paul Ducklin, Senior Technologist at global cybersecurity firm Sophos.

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Facebook said it had found no evidence to date that anyone internally abused or improperly accessed the passwords. Pixabay

“Hashed passwords still need to be cracked before they can be used; plaintext passwords are the real deal without any further hacking or cracking needed,” Ducklin added.

Facebook said it had found no evidence to date that anyone internally abused or improperly accessed the passwords.

“While the details of the incident are still emerging, this is likely an accidental programming error that led to the logging of plain text credentials. That said, this should never have happened and Facebook needs to ensure that no user credentials or data were compromised as a result of this error,” said John Shier, Senior Security Advisor at Sophos.

“This is also another reminder for people who are still reusing passwords or using weak passwords to change their Facebook password to something strong and unique and to turn on two-factor authentication (2FA),” Shier said. Turning on 2FA would mean that a password alone is not enough for crooks to raid your account, Ducklin added.

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Turning on 2FA would mean that a password alone is not enough for crooks to raid your account, Ducklin added. Pixabay

Facebook also asked people to change their passwords “out of an abundance of caution”.

Earlier this month, Facebook came under scrutiny for using phone numbers provided for security reasons — like two-factor authentication (2FA) — for things like advertising and making users searchable by their phone numbers across its different platforms.

ALSO READ: New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern Receives Death Threats on Social Media

“Another security measure users can implement to strengthen their digital security postures is to use different passwords for different online accounts. Don’t use your Facebook password for any other login, particularly for personal/professional email accounts or online banking,” said Sanjay Katkar, Joint Managing Director and Chief Technology Officer, Quick Heal Technologies Limited.

“It is also a good practice to log out whenever not using Facebook, even on mobile devices,” Katkar added. (IANS)