WeChat suspends new users until early August for ‘security upgrade’

WeChat app is seen on a smartphone in this illustration taken, July 13, 2021.
Reuters

WeChat, the multipurpose super app operated by Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings, has suspended new user registrations until August so it can conduct a “security upgrade” to comply with “relevant laws and regulations”, following Beijing’s intensified scrutiny of the country’s internet industry.

“We are conducting a security technical upgrade in accordance with relevant laws and regulations, and we will temporarily suspend the registration of new personal accounts and official accounts,” the WeChat team said on social media platform Weibo.

“The upgrade is expected to be complete in early August, and registration will resume upon completion,” WeChat said in the post.

When contacted for further comment, WeChat and Tencent referred the South China Morning Post to the Weibo statement.

Tencent’s Hong Kong-listed shares fell 8.9 per cent on Tuesday (July 27), the most in nearly a decade, amid a broader rout of China tech stocks.

WeChat, known as Weixin in mainland China, has a ubiquitous presence among Chinese internet users, with 1.24 billion monthly active users who use the app to chat, play games, shop, read news, pay for meals, and post their thoughts and pictures for friends to see.

WeChat’s suspension comes as Beijing tightens its grip on the internet industry, including how tech companies collect data.

The soon-to-be enacted Personal Information Protection Law, China’s first legislation dedicated to data privacy, will introduce more restrictions on how companies handle personal data.

Big Tech platforms, for instance, will each be asked to create an independent oversight body tasked with scrutinising their data privacy practices.

Recently, ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing has faced mounting regulatory pressure on cybersecurity grounds. Beijing ordered more than 25 Didi-linked apps to be removed from the country’s app stores over allegations of illegal collection and use of user data.

An investigation into the company was launched just days after its blockbuster initial public offering in New York, which allegedly was done against the wishes of the Cyberspace Administration of China.

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Tencent, a social media and entertainment behemoth, has become the latest target for China’s overall regulatory tightening of the tech industry.

On Saturday (July 24), the State Administration for Market Regulation slapped the Shenzhen-based company with a 500,000 yuan (S$104,000) fine and ordered it to end its exclusive music licensing deals with global record labels within 30 days.

Earlier in July, the market watchdog blocked Tencent’s plan to merge Huya and Douyu International Holdings, China’s two biggest video game live-streaming platforms, which would have strengthened Tencent’s dominant position in the game streaming market.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.