Popular Chinese Super App WeChat Ends ‘War on External Links’

After nearly a decade, Tencent has begun allowing external links to be opened within the WeChat app

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2:56 AM HKT, Thu December 2, 2021 1 mins read

If you’ve ever visited China, you probably know that it is nearly impossible to go about day-to-day life without using the WeChat app. With more than 1.2 billion users — most of whom are in China, the WhatsApp-like platform functions as a peer-to-peer communication network, news aggregator, payment processor, media-sharing service, and so much more.

Since 2013, tech conglomerate Tencent, which owns WeChat, and fellow corporate giant Alibaba have been at odds after WeChat blocked direct access to Alibaba’s ecommerce platform, Taobao, via the app.

Now, after nearly a decade, a November 29 blog post by Tencent explains that the company will start allowing external links to be opened within the app.

The decision follows a September 17 statement by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which outlined changes to the regulation of external links on the platform.

wechat article

Previously, to share product links from Taobao on WeChat, users had to copy-paste a bizarre block of text from the ecommerce site. This process was to avoid being detected by WeChat. Screengrab via WeChat

Prior to the announcement, Tencent did allow users to share external links in private, one-on-one chats after updating to the latest version of the app. Users who clicked these links, however, were first directed to a warning page.

The latest changes will also allow direct access to website links shared in group chats, and the company has removed the warning prompt.

With the restrictions lifted, it is now possible for businesses to encourage people to share their links for enticing offers and special discounts on products and services on WeChat.

The policy changes come amid a broader effort by the government to limit China’s corporate goliaths from monopolizing their respective industries — similar to antitrust legislation in the United States. The news has sparked discussion about whether other big companies might follow suit — mainly because compatibility between major corporate services is lacking in China.

wechat and douyin

Now users can share Douyin links with their friends on WeChat. Image via Depositphotos

In addition to the longtime blocking of Taobao links, WeChat has also impeded access to other services provided by their competitors, such as online retailer Pinduoduo and China’s version of TikTok, Douyin.

Netizen opinions are divided on the topic, with some celebrating the fact that China’s big tech companies are cooperating, while others are concerned about being inundated with unsolicited links.

“I don’t want to receive all the spam,” lamented one Weibo user.

WeChat has stated that it will fully implement this new rule by December 1, and the company plans to grant greater freedom to users to manage external link settings in the future.

Cover image via Depositphotos

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