WeChat Fixes Content ‘Glitch’ Amidst Regulatory Pressure

Tencent-owned chat giant WeChat said a glitch in its systems temporarily made its content available on outside services, and that the issue has been fixed.

The issue had led some to speculate that WeChat may have intentionally begun making its content more accessible in response to pressure by regulators in China.

The issue meant that Microsoft’s Bing and Google – which is not available in mainland China – displayed some WeChat content, although the content was not available on Chinese search leader Baidu.

Baidu confirmed the search engine remained unable to access WeChat content.

‘Loopholes’

Some WeChat content was reportedly still available on Bing and Google even after Tencent said the issue was fixed.

“Due to a recent tech upgrade on the platform, loopholes were created in the protocols for public accounts on WeChat and that allowed external crawlers to access some of the content,” Tencent said in a Chinese-language statement. “The loopholes have since been fixed.”

Articles on the app, which is one of the most widely used internet tools in China, are generally only available through its native search function or on Tencent-controlled search engine Sogou.

The country’s tech-industry regulator, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), is reportedly considering asking media companies including Tencent and TikTok developer ByteDance to allow rivals to access their content in search results.

Walled gardens

Regulators are said to be focusing on WeChat’s vast range of public-facing accounts, whose accessibility to outside search engines would be a major shift for the online advertising industry.

China’s internet industry is dominated by huge players that restrict access by rivals, creating so-called “walled gardens”.

China’s government has said it plans to crack down on the system, part of a broader tightening of regulations that in recent months has affected everything from Bitcoin mining to online gaming.

The crackdown on walled gardens focuses on social media apps such as Tencent’s WeChat, e-commerce sites such as Alibaba’s Taobao and Tmall, and video and news apps such as ByteDance’s Toutiao and Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok.

China’s internet companies have lowered some barriers, with Tencent in September allowing WeChat users to link to external services from rivals such as Alibaba, and Alibaba later adding WeChat’s payment system to some of its apps.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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