China / Hot Issues

Info overload, fraud tarnish popular chat app

(Xinhua) Updated: 2014-05-08 03:53

WeChat, or Weixin, a popular instant messaging service in China, risks losing its luster as users complain about being bombarded by deceptive ads and excessive information.

The situation came to public attention when a business account put fake ads on "Moments", one of the major functions embedded in WeChat that allows users to upload photos and share their daily life via texts.

On Monday, authorities in Chongqing busted a case in which a "travel agency" account told its followers on WeChat to "Like" its ads to win a free trip to Hong Kong and Macao, which was later proved to be deceptive.

Similar cases were reported in the provinces of Guangdong, Sichuan, Shaanxi and Jiangsu, with unscrupulous businesspeople trying to lure customers with promotions for coveted items, which they failed to deliver.

WeChat, developed by Internet giant Tencent, allows people to send texts, photos, videos and voice messages over mobile phones. The application has earned a legion of fans in China thanks to its convenience, reaching 600 million users since its debut in 2011.

Along with fake ads, information overload on the app is causing some users to want to escape the flood of daily annoyances.

Wei Kang, an office worker in Beijing, said he receives "tons of messages" from his colleagues in WeChat's chat groups, even on weekends.

Wei said he spends about an hour daily replying to messages from his colleagues, and has to check WeChat every few minutes because messages from his boss might be among the sea of notifications.

"I feel like I have been kidnapped by WeChat," Wei said.

Wei is not the only user feeling bombarded by the app. Early in February, Huang Zhen, a professor from the Central University of Finance and Economics, caused a buzz on the Internet when he announced he would abandon all WeChat chat groups and "try to find some inner peace".

In a survey in March by a newspaper in Shanghai, two-thirds of respondents had feelings of being "kidnapped" by WeChat, but most chose to put up with the barrage of messages and information.

The "Moments" section on WeChat, for instance, has waned in popularity as it has become a place for people to either share ads or Chicken Soup for the Soul-type articles.

"My WeChat 'Moments' are basically spammed by these every single day, which is quite annoying," a WeChat user screen-named "HXfengai" said.

As calls for change mount, WeChat teams need to adjust their product design and services to break the bottleneck and retain users, said Zhang Yi, CEO of iiMedia Research.

Zhang said WeChat development teams should step up efforts to consider feedback from users and try to understand what they truly need.

"It's hard to say how loyal users will remain to WeChat, but if the company can make adjustments according to users' specific needs, it may help retain many users," he said.


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