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  1. What Is
July 25, 2016updated 16 Feb 2017 3:05pm

What is WeChat?

Starting life in 2010, the messaging app WeChat has had its fair share of controversy with censorship, privacy and jail terms.

By James Nunns

WeChat is a mobile text and voice messaging service developed by Tencent in China.

The app is one of the most popular downloads and is one of the largest standalone messaging apps by monthly active users.

First released in January 2011 it has over 600 million active users in August 2015, only 100 million of which were outside of China.

To put that into context that is only 100 million less users than Facebook Messenger. This increased even further in 2016, with the messaging service boasting 864 million active users.

The app is available across multiple platforms such as Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone while web based clients on Windows and OS X also exist.

WeChat boasts many features, although the most popular is its instant messaging service. Users can send text messages, voice messages and stickers to other users. The sending of saved or live pictures, as well as coupons and videos is possible in either an individual or group chat.

Another feature is WeChat Pay, a digital wallet which allows users to pay with their mobile device and send money to contacts. In China, users can pay bills, transfer money and pay in stores. In 2014, WeChat created a feature which distributed red virtual envelopes to coincide with Chinese New Year. Traditionally, people give each other money gifts in a red envelope during the holidays, with WeChat seizing upon this tradition and taking it virtual.

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Who was jailed for three years after expressing concerns about WeChat?

WeChat had its beginnings as a project at Tencent Guangzhou Research and Project center in October 2010. “Weixin”, the original version of the app, was invented by Xiaolong Zhang, and named by Ma Huateng, Tencent CEO.

As a Chinese company there has been censorship concerns relating to WeChat. Controversy rose in 2013 when reports surfaced that WeChat was censoring and blocking searches. Impacting both Chinese and international users, Tencent released a statement saying:

“A small number of WeChat international users were not able to send certain messages due to a technical glitch this Thursday. Immediate actions have been taken to rectify it. We apologize for any inconvenience it has caused to our users. We will continue to improve the product features and technological support to provide a better user experience.”

The concerns relating to censorship also extends to security, with WeChat operating under Chinese Law and having to abide by censorship provisions and interception protocols. WeChat has the ability to access messages and contacts of users, with Chinese users expressing concerns over privacy. Human rights activist Hu Jia, claiming that officials listened to his voicemail messages, was jailed for three years for sedition.

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