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China’s WeChat Revolution

Weixin (微信), also known as WeChat, has become one of China’s most popular smartphone apps. The app is taking over the mobile market, and is impacting Chinese businesses, people’s social lives and even the taxi industry in various ways.

Manya Koetse

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China has the largest Internet population in the world. Smartphone users make up 81% of this populace. Weixin (微信), also known as WeChat, has become one of China’s most popular smartphone apps. It was launched in January 2011 by Tencent (known by the penguin logo). The core function of WeChat is its messaging function: sending free messages to phone contacts that also use the app. In this sense, WeChat is similar to Whatsapp.

But there is more to WeChat: its success lies its in multifunctionality. WeChat is not just a messenger, it is also a social network, an online wallet, a news source and much more (read our Short Guide to Weixin). With China’s mobile user market exceeding 750 million, Weixin (currently 468 million users) only has more room to grow – a sunny prospect. Longtime Beijinger and specialist on Chinese language and culture, Ryan Myers, explains how WeChat is impacting Chinese businesses, people’s social lives and even the taxi industry: “WeChat watchers will understand how revolutionary it actually is.”

 

WECHAT THE SUPERAPP

“WeChat is Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, Paypal, Shazam, Viber, Uber and much more, all in one.”

“Recently I was sitting at a bar with my friends when a nice song came up. I asked for the song’s name, and my friends started shaking their phones to identify it. Music identification is yet another function that WeChat has recently added to its wide range of features. You shake the phone and WeChat recognizes the music. WeChat is all-encompassing. It is Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, Paypal, Shazam, Viber, Uber and much more, all in one.

Weixin is a perfect tool for both personal and business use. It is easy to set up a Weixin chatgroup to communicate and share files in an educational or corporate setting. Instead of adding individuals one by one through their telephone number, Weixin allows people to join a location-based group through a collective password. As a teacher, I only have to tell students the password and they can then join the classroom-based group, without them becoming my personal contacts. It is perfect because it keeps business and private separate.

The best thing about WeChat is the sheer volume of its plugins, functions and features, which is basically everything anyone could use on a smartphone. Getting a taxi, paying for drinks, organizing work-related meetings, chatting with friends –  I never have to shut the application because it incorporates all I need to use. I don’t even have to worry about backing up my contacts – WeChat automatically does it every month.”

 

GRABBING A CAB THROUGH WECHAT

“WeChat is a total game changer for China’s taxi industry.”

“Lately WeChat/Weixin is used a lot for getting taxi’s. Didi Dache (嘀嘀打车) is a function that is built into WeChat, so you can now get a taxi through WeChat and also pay for it through the app’s wallet function. Customers can order a taxi and indicate how much they want to leave as a tip. Taxi drivers will see the request through the app. Based on the customer’s location and the tip, the taxi driver can decide whether or not he wants to come and pick them up. Socially it is a huge change that drivers are now accepting tips, since tipping used to be very uncommon. It has also affected those who do not use the app, since hailing a taxi on the streets has become increasingly difficult as drivers are more likely to pick up customers through Didi Dache. It is a total game changer for the taxi industry. What is also noteworthy is that all taxi drivers have smartphones now. I got into a taxi the other day and the driver had three smartphones. One of them was running a movie, the other was used for taking calls and the final one was used for Didi Dache to keep track of incoming taxi requests. It is features such as these that make WeChat so influential in China, impacting multiple layers of society. People who closely follow WeChat will understand how revolutionary it actually is.”

 

MOBILE MARKETING

“WeChat has endless possibilities in the field of interactive marketing and business promotion. Companies who do not keep up with it will not make it.”

“It is innovating how companies market their products through WeChat. Even small and simple restaurants now utilize Wechat’s QR codes. Customers can scan them and be part of the company’s ‘fanbase’. In return, they get a discount or a free drink. Wechat is also used for promotion activities in other ways. I hosted a marketing event for my company the other day where a Powerpoint presentation featured a QR code that the audience could scan. Once they scanned it, their names appeared on the screen, connected to interactive racing horses. The people from the audience had to shake their phones in order for the horses to move. Who shook the fastest won, and got a special prize from our company. When it comes down to interactive marketing and business promotion, Wechat has endless possibilities. And this is just the beginning. Companies who do not keep up with these technologies will not make it. Passing on flyers does not work anymore. Businesses need to use mobile marketing through Wechat if they want to be seen.”

 

THE HARMONY OF WECHAT

“Wechat truly is a culturally Chinese product.”

“Interestingly, the concept of Wechat is in line with the Chinese traditional way of thinking that advocates harmony and the idea of everything, everyone, all together. In Western countries people think in much more individual ways. This reflects in their use of apps; people use different apps for different functions, because it suits their individual needs. They will check the news through Yahoo, message through Whatsapp and talk through Viber or Skype. Wechat has all of these functions under one ‘roof’. In China it is also much more common for a bar to be a restaurant, a study-place, a snooker hall and a shop all in one. From this perspective, Wechat truly is a culturally Chinese product.

To know more about Wechat, read ‘Introduction to WeChat‘. 

Follow What’s on Weibo on Twitter. 

©2014 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Digital

“Don’t Download This App!” – A Top 10 of Harmful Chinese Apps

This latest top 10 of harmful Chinese apps comes amid a heightened media focus on mobile users and cybersecurity in China.

Jialing Xie

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Thousands of apps are available to China’s mobile users, but not all of them are safe. These apps were marked as harmful by Chinese state media this week.

On September 17, Chinese state media outlet Xinhua News Agency issued a top 10 list of harmful mobile apps. The list, published via various social media outlets, raised discussions online about the security risks of seemingly innocent and fun apps.

The top 10 list comes during China’s 2019 “Clean the Web” (净网) campaign, an ongoing nationwide initiative organized by Chinese authorities to clean China’s digital environment by eradicating pornography and ‘illegal publications’ (扫黄打非).

As the People’s Republic of China will soon celebrate its 70th anniversary, the “Clean the Web 2019” campaign is now in full swing.

According to China’s National Computer Virus Emergency Response Center (NCVERC), the 10 listed ‘harmful apps’ posing hazards related to illegal gambling, stealing personal data, and having in-app downloads without users’ permission.

The full list of harmful mobile apps (and their bugged versions) is as follows.

 

The following first four apps are accused of personal data breaches:

 

1. ‘Happy Eliminating’《开心消消消》(Version 1.1)

The app on the left (开心消消消) is very similar to another popular gaming app called Happy Elements (开心消消乐).

This gaming app (image on the left), is highly similar to another popular gaming app known as Xiaoxiaole or Happy Elements (开心消消乐) (on the right).

 

2. ‘Digule’《嘀咕乐》(Version 1.0.1)

App screenshots from SnapPea.

This app promises to offer free comics and offline downloads. The app presents itself as being “non-ads interference” on the Android Market.

 

3. ‘Mifeng Yx’《蜜蜂优选》(Version 2.4.2)

This app helps users to get discount from popular online shopping sites such as Tmall and Taobao.

 

4. ‘Yangling Travel’《杨凌旅游》

This is a travel app that offers a wealth of information related to self-guided tours, travel tips, and hotel booking services.

 

The following apps have been labeled as ‘harmful’ for containing malware; their plug-ins and bundles drain users’ cellular data by downloading promotional ads and mobile apps in the background without permission:

 

5. ‘Zhijiao YXY’《职教云学院》(Version 1.0.2)

Zhijiao YXY is an online teaching platform for vocational education.

 

6. ‘Fashion Snap’《时尚快拍》(Version 3.6.72)

Fashion Snap is a beauty camera and photo editor tool.

 

7. ‘Watermark Images’《水印修图》(Version 4.0.91)

This is another photo editor tool featuring photo watermark add-ons.

 

These last three apps were linked with gambling activities by Chinese state media, or have security vulnerabilities making users susceptible to financial losses:

 

8. ‘Cute Puppy Go Home’《萌犬回家》(Version 2.0)

This is an app that matches pets with potential adopters.

 

9. Guess-emoji-challenge (Version 1.1)

As its name indicates, this is a mobile gaming app all about emoji guessing.

 

10. Warehouse Manager《仓库管家》(Version 1.0.1)

This is a warehouse management application.

(Note that we found two additional apps with the exact same name on AppAdvice, both are described as warehouse management applications – so for now, it is not clear which one of the three is the one referred to by Xinhua, and how it is associated with gambling.)

 

In addition to warning Chinese mobile users about the aforementioned versions of the 10 apps, Chinese media also spread the NCVERS’s advise in recommending netizens to use “real-time monitoring” anti-virus apps to help detect malware carried by illegal and harmful apps. 

In response to the report on the harmful apps, SinaTech News launched a poll on Weibo asking people what unwanted side functions mobile apps they dreaded the most.

At the time of writing, a majority (48.7%) of the 77,000 people participating in the poll indicated that “collecting user data without permission” is one of the things they loathe the most.

With China’s Cybersecurity Week kicking off earlier this month, there’s recently been an increased (social) media focus on cybersecurity in China.

This week, Chinese cybersecurity experts warned social media users not to post photos of themselves doing a V-sign gesture, since criminals could possibly abuse their fingerprint data.

The Chinese app Zao also sparked major privacy concerns in China earlier this month. The app, that was released on August 30, allows users to play with face-swapping and “deepfake” effects. There were soon concerns about the app’s questionable privacy policy, which stated it had “free, irrevocable, permanent, transferable, and relicenseable” rights to all user-generated content (also see The Guardian).

By now, the hashtag ‘Ten Lawbreaking & Harmful Apps” (#十款违法有害App#) has received over 130 million views on Weibo.

“This is a time for all of us to be concerned,” one Weibo blogger writes, with others agreeing: “I think all apps are collecting our data nowadays.”

But not all people seem to be so worried: “Weibo, WeChat, and Baidu – I’d say those apps are really harmful! They are harmful because they make me waste so many hours of my day.”

Read more about Chinese apps here.

By Jialing Xie

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Digital

Cybersecurity Experts Warn: Flicking the V-Sign in Photos Could Give Away Your Fingerprint Data

V-sign selfie pictures could disclose personal information about your fingerprints, security experts warn.

Manya Koetse

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Our cameras are getting better, but that’s not always a good thing. Chinese internet security experts warn that peace sign photos could potentially be abused to collect fingerprint data.

The 2019 China Cybersecurity Week was held in Shanghai this week, and made it to the top trending topics on Sina Weibo today.

The topic attracting the attention of millions of Chinese web users is not China’s cybersecurity in general, but one that was discussed during the event, namely the potential privacy risks in making a V-sign on photos.

Chinese internet security experts at the conference warned that people are unaware that they could be giving away personal data information about their fingerprints when sharing photos of themselves making a peace sign.

If the side of the fingertips is facing the camera, and if there is not a lot of space in between the camera and the hand, it would potentially be possible to gather fingerprint data using photo enlargement tools and AI techniques.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez.

The deputy director of the Shanghai Information Security Industry Association stated that photos displaying a fingertop-facing V-sign taken within 1,5 meter of the camera could potentially disclose 100% of one’s fingerprint information, China Press reports.

A booth at the conference giving information about fingerprint information leaking through V-sign photos. Photo via China Press.

Criminals could reconstruct fingerprint patterns of other people and abuse them in various means – basically wherever fingerprint information is used to confirm people’s identities (e.g. biometric door locks or fingerprint payment scanning).

Besides not disclosing fingerprint information in photos posted online, experts also warn people not to leave fingerprint information at machines without confirming their purpose and legality.

Fingerprint scanning is used for a multitude of purposes in China. Foreigners who arrived in China since 2017 will also be familiar with the policy of collecting foreign passport holders’ fingerprints upon their arrival in the PRC.

On Chinese social media, the topic “Making a V-Sign Could Leak Your Fingerprint Data” is one of the biggest being discussed today. On Weibo, the hashtag has gathered 200 million views at time of writing (#拍照比剪刀手会泄露指纹信息#).

Some commenters advise people on social media to make peace signs with the nail side of the fingers facing the camera. (That gesture, however, is deemed an offensive gesture in some nations.)

The V-sign is often used as a rather non-symbolic or cute gesture across in East Asia.

Although in many Western countries, the symbol is mostly known as the victory sign (“V for Victory”) as used during World War II, it entered mainstream popular culture in Japan since the 1960s and spread to other Asian countries from there.

This Time article explains how the gesture appeared in Japanese manga in the late 1960s, one of them titled V is the Sign (Sain wa ‘V’ / サインはV).

Amid the concerned Weibo users, some are not worried: “It’s ok,” one commenter writes: “Using a Beauty App smoothes out my skin anyway.”

There are also many commenters who are confused about the news, wondering what advanced photo camera quality and AI technique might implicate for future privacy risks concerning face recognition data and iris scanning software (“Should we also close our eyes?”).

Others offer a different solution to the unexpected V-sign issue: “Just flip the middle finger instead.”

By Manya Koetse

The images used in the featured image on this page come from 追星娱乐说.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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