You can win everything if you have really deep pockets. This is one of the canons many businesspeople in China follow. And this explains the indecent actions of two companies, Tencent and security vendor Qihoo 360.
On Wednesday, Tencent announced that its QQ users would have to uninstall software from 360 before being allowed to use its instant messaging client. The decision came a few weeks after accusations flew between the two companies following the release of 360's security software that claimed QQ was breaching users' privacy.
The two companies are locked in a do-or-die battle, holding a large number of users as their hostages - more than 655 million for Tencent and more than 300 million for 360 - and using them as their bargaining chips.
To say that the two have crossed all limits would be an understatement. The controversy has set a shameful precedent. Tencent has taken it for granted that it can decide what software its users should or should not install, because it thinks none of the more than 655 million of them can live without it. The dispute has made some users say that it is a "choose-or-lose game" for them.
There are no business ethics for some monopoly companies in China. This has always been to the disadvantage of Chinese netizens.
The actions of the two companies stink of self-interest, and their pursuit of maximum profit is beyond reproach. But they should know that violating users' rights can land them in trouble.
It will be difficult for Tencent and 360 to win back the public trust they have lost. According to a Sina.com survey conducted on Wednesday, 53.8 percent of the nearly 700,000 respondents chose to remove QQ and 24.2 percent had decided to delete 360. If this trend continues both companies would soon be at their wit's end.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the Ministry of Public Security are acting as arbitrators to settle the issue between the two companies. It seems they have a lot more to do to end unhealthy competition in business.
How can Chinese netizens - the largest group in the world - have confidence in giant companies that are engaged in such unfair competitions?
It's high time the government put the rights of Internet surfers on its agenda. Public organizations and commercial establishments both have to respect Internet users' rights. And netizens should be consulted before regulations on the Web are passed, because if they are not they will always be the victims.
Neither Tencent nor 360 is expected to win the battle because both have become unpopular with their users and both are losing their clientele. This is a public relations fiasco for Tencent as well as 360.
(China Daily 11/06/2010 page5)