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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

Social Networking Giant Facebook Sharing Users’ Data with Telecom Firms, Phone Makers

The database contained 49 million records of several high-profile influencers, including prominent food bloggers, celebrities and other social media influencers

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This photograph taken on May 16, 2018, shows a figurine standing in front of the logo of social network Facebook on a cracked screen of a smartphone in Paris. VOA

A confidential Facebook document reviewed by The Intercept has revealed that the social networking giant is offering private data of its users without their knowledge or consent to 100 different telecom companies and phone makers in 50 countries.

Confidential documents seen by the website showed late Monday that Facebook is helping operators and phone makers “create targeted advertising by supplying them with surveillance data slurped directly from users’ smartphones”.

Not only that, the social networking giant is also collecting data from its main iOS and Android apps, Messenger and Instagram apps — even snooping into the phones of children as young as 13.

Through a tool called “Actionable Insights”, Facebook is allegedly collecting data including technical details about smartphones, cellular and Wi-Fi networks used by Facebook users, locations visited social groups and interests.

Facebook reacted in a statement late Monday: “We do not, nor have we ever, rated people’s credit worthiness for Actionable Insights or across ads, and Facebook does not use people’s credit information in how we show ads”.

According to the report, “the data has been used by Facebook partners to assess their standing against competitors, including customers lost to and won from them, but also for more controversial uses like racially targeted ads”.

Facebook launched “Actionable Insights” tool last year “to address the issue of weak cellular data connections in various parts of the world.”

“The confidential Facebook document shows how the programme, ostensibly created to help improve underserved cellular customers, is pulling in far more data than how many bars you’re getting,” said the report.

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Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the Viva Tech start-up and technology summit in Paris, France, May 24, 2018. VOA

“The Facebook mobile app harvests and packages eight different categories of information for use by over 100 different telecom companies in over 50 different countries around the world, including usage data from the phones of children as young as 13,” the report claimed.

These categories include use of video, demographics, location, use of Wi-Fi and cellular networks, personal interests, device information, and friend homophily, an academic term of art.

Also Read- China Excludes Taiwan from Participation in World Health Assembly

From these categories, a third party vendor could learn an extraordinary amount about patterns of users’ daily life.

The news came after Facebook’s photo-sharing service Instagram saw itself in trouble as personal data of millions of celebrities and influencers were allegedly exposed on its platform in a massive database that was traced to Mumbai-based social media marketing firm Chtrbox.

The database contained 49 million records of several high-profile influencers, including prominent food bloggers, celebrities and other social media influencers, TechCrunch reported. (IANS)