How China is tightening its grip on messaging apps
Aug08

How China is tightening its grip on messaging apps

The Chinese government seems to be further tightening its grip on messaging apps like WeChat. This week, the State Internet Information Office announced a new regulation that imposes restrictions on users of the services. Popularity of messaging apps in China Messaging apps are a huge deal in China. TenCent’s WeChat service is the dominant player, with somewhere in the region of 400 million users, although there are competitors, both Chinese (with Alibaba pushing its Laiwang service) and international (such as Line and KakaoTalk – more on those later). What are the new rules? On Thursday, the State Internet Information Office announced its latest regulation, which it announced would “help build a clean cyberspace”. The regulation applies to “public” and “official” accounts on messaging platforms – that is, accounts to which other users can subscribe. Users of these public or official accounts are subject to new requirements. In particular, they must: register with their real name – it goes without saying that the absence of anonymity will have a fairly serious impact on the kind of content that users will share via these accounts; commit to complying with law and regulation (including the somewhat broad requirement to comply with “the socialist system”); and ensure the accuracy of the information provided. Putting the new regulation in context Why this account type in particular? The answer, of course, is that these public or official accounts enable a kind of “multicasting” of information, from one user to many, in a way that unicasting (one to one) accounts do not. It is this level of publishing or broadcast that the Chinese government seems to be most concerned about. This development also has to be considered in light of the news that China has blocked the services of two of the world’s biggest messaging app services: Japan’s Line and Korea’s Kakaotalk. Although that move was focused specifically on those foreign services, as part of “efforts to fight terrorism”, it is now very clear that messaging apps are, and will continue to be, in the firing line for the regulators tasked with maintaining China’s control of internet communications. This story is also a snapshot of how regulation is wrestling with these relatively new but enormously popular forms of communication – and not just in China but across the region, where we have already seen countries like Vietnam step up their control of the...

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Mapping the Social Commerce Revolution in Asia
Feb24

Mapping the Social Commerce Revolution in Asia

The convergence of social and e-commerce continues apace in Asia. More established e-commerce businesses, led by the likes of Alibaba and Rakuten, are investing heavily in social to maintain growth momentum and give them direct access to millions of users via social networks and messaging apps. One only needs to look at Rakuten’s $900 million acquisition of chat app Viber just last week, and Alibaba’s $586 million investment in the Sina Weibo microblogging platform last year, to see that e-commerce businesses are betting big on social. Across the way, social platforms are finally starting to monetise the retail opportunities that their platforms create. Alibaba’s Sina Weibo investment was seen as an effort to see off competition from its big rival, TenCent, and its messaging app WeChat, which is increasingly active in e-commerce and has a staggering 300 million users. In other parts of the region, fast-growing messaging apps like KakaoTalk and Line are partnering with retailers by offering official shopping channels, discounts and flash sales. Meanwhile, “social first” e-commerce startups are building their businesses right in the area of convergence between social and retail, whilst payment providers like Doku and service providers like aCommerce and Shopify are cashing in on all of this activity. Let’s look at some of the investments, acquisitions, partnerships and startups that are leading the social commerce revolution in Asia. Who? What? Social grabbing a piece of retail TenCent It’s no wonder that Alibaba is investing in social. A clear challenge is coming from its big Chinese rival, TenCent, and its WeChat messaging app, which has around 300 million users. In November 2013, device manufacturer Xiaomi managed to sell 150,000 units of its Mi-3 device in less than 10 minutes – exclusively via WeChat. And much more established businesses are also working closely with WeChat in the social commerce space. Chinese McDonalds fans can now pay for their meals via WeChat. Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp Facebook is having a good deal of success with so-called “F-Commerce” in the region, taking advantage of the absence of global players like eBay and Amazon. Thailand is a good example. There are 24 million Facebook users in the country. Small and medium sized operators are using the platform to sell an ever-increasing range of products and merchants are now starting to invest in advertising on the platform. The company’s incredible $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp will see it move into messaging apps and, one imagines, a broader range of social commerce opportunities. The acquisition also hit the share prices of the platform’s Asian competitors, like Line and WeChat. Line Japan’s Line messaging app, with its estimated 300 million users, is...

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