China’s foils its best chance at beating Facebook

Christopher Mims

WeChat was supposed to be the first Chinese internet service to become a global phenomenon—the Facebook of China, and just as internationally successful. But now it appears that WeChat is censoring words deemed taboo by the Chinese government—and not just in China, but for users everywhere.

To say that this is a problem for Tencent, WeChat’s owner and China’s biggest internet company, would be an understatement. Tencent recently announced that WeChat had surpassed 300 million users, many of them outside of China. (Facebook passed the 1 billion mark in October.) As well as Chinese, the service is available in English, Indonesian, Portuguese, Thai, Vietnamese and Russian. WeChat’s app runs on all the major smartphone operating systems, including Nokia’s Symbian, which is popular in emerging markets.

Words censored globally for WeChat users include the Chinese name of a newspaper currently battling the Chinese government over censorship. The paper’s English name, Southern Weekend, is not blocked on the site.

Here’s where things get difficult for WeChat: Its international users cannot now escape the fact that, as a service with its headquarters and servers in China, it is subject to the censorious whims of the Chinese government. But not only that: Because WeChat reveals the location of messages sent via the service, dissidents in China are now afraid that China’s security services are using WeChat to locate them in real time.

In October, members of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party greeted the launch of WeChat in Taiwan with accusations that the service is a national security risk, saying that “hackers” (among whom they evidently meant to include the Chinese government) could break into users’ communications, including those of members of the Taiwanese military. The potential for states to spy on people through social media is obvious—wouldn’t the CIA like to have access to Facebook’s complete database, for example—but WeChat’s international self-censorship makes those fears seem all the more real.

For now, users of WeChat inside and outside of China could get around censorship by referring to sensitive subjects in languages other than Chinese. But how long will that last? Whatever happens next, Tencent now has a problem that makes Facebook’s occasional privacy snarl-ups look tepid by comparison. It remains to be seen whether this will affect the service’s growth outside of China, but clearly, it’s going to be a stumbling-block for all Chinese web companies with ambitions that go beyond the mainland.

More from Quartz

  • Self-made millionaire: Don't put money in your 401(k)

    Self-made millionaire: Don't put money in your 401(k)

    The self-made millionaire refuses to play by anyone else's rules, particularly when it comes to saving money. "I would never, ever invest money in a 401(k)," Cardone tells CNBC. The popular retirement plans are "traps that prevent people from ever having enough," Cardone writes on his website.

  • Internal emails show McDonald’s turnaround is in trouble
    Business Insider

    Internal emails show McDonald’s turnaround is in trouble

    McDonald's turnaround is facing a major roadblock. The email was summarizing a September meeting between McDonald's executives and franchise leaders. McDonald's did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment on the documents.

  • Business
    Real Money

    Market Has Already Decided Election's Outcome

    I'm growing so tired of the recent trading-range action that I was hoping a bit too much that the negative reaction to Apple (AAPL) earnings and the weak action in small-caps might trigger some downside momentum. What happened instead is that the indices bounced right back and are barely unchanged. (Apple is part of TheStreet's Action Alerts PLUS portfolio.)  Breadth is still dicey at 2,600 gainers to 3,900 decliners and the small-caps indices are hanging on by their fingertips to support, but the S&P 500 is showing just a minor loss. It still isn't a very good setup for buying, but the story of this market has been -- and still is -- a lack of momentum in either direction. One question we were

  • 8 Things You Should Never Keep in Your Wallet

    8 Things You Should Never Keep in Your Wallet

    That overstuffed wallet of yours can’t be comfortable to sit on. It’s probably even too clunky to lug around in a purse, too. And with every new bank slip that bulges from the seams, your personal information is getting less and less safe. With just your name and Social Security number, identity thieves can open new credit accounts and make costly purchases in your name. If they can get their hands on (and doctor) a government-issued photo ID of yours, they can do even more damage, such as opening new bank accounts. These days, con artists are even profiting from tax-return fraud and health-care fraud, all with stolen IDs. We talked with consumer-protection advocates to identify the eight things

  • Exclusive: WHO cancer agency asked experts to withhold weedkiller documents

    Exclusive: WHO cancer agency asked experts to withhold weedkiller documents

    By Kate Kelland LONDON (Reuters) - The World Health Organization's cancer agency - which is facing criticism over how it classifies carcinogens - advised academic experts on one of its review panels not to disclose documents they were asked to release under United States freedom of information laws. In a letter and an email seen by Reuters, officials from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) cautioned scientists who worked on a review in 2015 of the weedkiller glyphosate against releasing requested material. The review, published in March 2015, concluded glyphosate is "probably carcinogenic," putting IARC at odds with regulators around the world.

  • Former Wells Fargo banker shares her story of the crushing stress from having to open so many needless customer accounts
    Business Insider

    Former Wells Fargo banker shares her story of the crushing stress from having to open so many needless customer accounts

    When news of the Wells Fargo scandal broke in September, the crushing anxiety that Angie Payden experienced as a banker there three years ago came rushing back. As a Wells Fargo banker, Payden told Business Insider she had "impossible" sales goals to reach. Richele Messick, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo, told Business Insider that if this were the case, it would have to be determined on an individual basis.

  • Everyone's Dream Boss, Joanna Gaines, Is Hiring
    Country Living

    Everyone's Dream Boss, Joanna Gaines, Is Hiring

    Looking for a career change that might involve farmhouse furniture, Christmas decorations, and plenty of bakery goodies? Magnolia Market, Joanna Gaines' furniture retailer and bakery located at the Silos in Waco, is hiring more staffers to join their teams for the holiday season, the brand announced on Instagram. If you have a knack for preparing tasty treats, for example, Magnolia Flour is looking for bakery sales associates and a baker.

  • Politics
    Bloomberg Video

    Donald Trump Calls Out ‘Mr. Tough Guy’ Joe Biden

    Oct. 25 -- At a rally in Tallahassee, Florida, Donald Trump responds to Vice President Biden’s remark that he’d like to take the GOP nominee “behind the gym.”

  • Apple 'leaks its own Macbook Pro laptop revamp'
    BBC News

    Apple 'leaks its own Macbook Pro laptop revamp'

    Apple appears to have leaked images of its next-generation laptop ahead of a press conference on Thursday. The photos support claims that the Macbook Pro will include a panel above its keyboard that replaces physical function keys with a thin display showing touch-sensitive text and graphics, and a fingerprint sensor. The images were discovered in an update to the MacOS operating system and first appeared on the MacRumors news site. Such "accidents" are not uncommon. In September, Apple tweeted and then deleted a video showing off the iPhone 7's new features ahead of its launch. Earlier in April, it referred to MacOS on its website two months before officially revealing it was rebranding the

  • Tesla shares flying after posting second quarterly profit ever

    Tesla shares flying after posting second quarterly profit ever

    Tesla (TSLA) shares soared Wednesday after the company posted its second profitable quarter ever and beat analyst expectations for the third quarter by a wide margin. In a conference call Wednesday night, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company currently believes the fourth quarter will be profitable excluding non-cash stock-based expenses, and added there is a "chance" Tesla will be profitable even taking those things into account. Tesla said it earned 71 cents a share on an adjusted basis in the third quarter on $2.3 billion in revenue.

  • Cashing in small pensions 'more popular'
    BBC News

    Cashing in small pensions 'more popular'

    A rising number of retirees are cashing in their pension pots but the amount they typically withdraw has fallen, figures show. Savers can now cash in their pension pot from the age of 55. When the access was permitted for the first time last year, people were taking out sums averaging close to £20,000. The latest tax authority figures show typical withdrawals have fallen to about £10,000. This is evidence of retirees using the pension reforms to cash in smaller pension pots or taking part of their savings in cash while leaving the rest invested in a scheme. Previous research has suggested that the most popular use of the cash is for home improvements. Pension changes People aged 55 and over can

  • New Wells Fargo CEO to employees: 'We're sorry'
    Associated Press

    New Wells Fargo CEO to employees: 'We're sorry'

    Newly appointed Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan told employees Tuesday that he is "sorry for the pain" that the bank's employees have suffered as a result of the company's sales practices scandal. In the speech, Sloan acknowledged that the bank did not respond to the problems in its branches soon enough and that upper management dodged responsibility for the bad behavior and wrongly placed blame on branch employees. Wells Fargo is enveloped in the biggest scandal in its 164-year history, which earlier this month forced the abrupt retirement this month of its CEO, John Stumpf .

  • Caterpillar digs deeper into the abyss
    The Street

    Caterpillar digs deeper into the abyss

    Heavy equipment maker Caterpillar ( CAT) took the wrecking ball to its 2016 results, bringing down sentiment about the health of the world economy in the process. Caterpillar reported Tuesday a third-quarter profit of $283 million on sales of $9.2 billion, down from a revised $559 million profit on $11 billion in sales in the same quarter a year prior. For the full year, Caterpillar said it now expects sales of $39 billion compared to previous guidance of between $40 billion and $40.5 billion. The results continue a bad run for Caterpillar, which has attempted to weather weakness in the commodity and energy markets that has led to more than three years of flat to down month-over-month sales by slashing 20% of its global workforce and restructuring its operations.

  • Best Vanguard Funds for Your Retirement Savings

    Best Vanguard Funds for Your Retirement Savings

    Vanguard is the biggest fund company in the land, with more than $3 trillion in assets. So chances are high that many retirement savers have access to Vanguard funds in their 401(k) plans. But size is no guarantee of good results. Thirty-four Vanguard funds appear on a list of the 105 most popular mutual funds in employer-sponsored retirement savings plans. No other fund company comes close. Not surprisingly, of the 34 most popular Vanguard funds in retirement plans, 15 are index funds. And nine more are target-date portfolios—those set-it-and-forget-it funds that shift over time to more conservative allocations as the fund nears its target year. The remaining 10 are actively managed. We didn’t

  • Business

    Oil Prices Plunge After API Reports Significant Build To U.S. Crude Stocks

    American crude oil supplies surged upwards by 4.8 million barrels this week, almost completely offsetting last week’s 5.2-million-barrel draw, according to the American Petroleum Institute (API) report released on Tuesday. This week’s inventory build will likely press further down on oil prices, which were already trading down on the market’s increasing uneasiness over the OPEC drama, including Iraq’s OPEC rebellion, Russia’s vague and vacillating comments as to whether they’ll join in a freeze or a cut, and Venezuela’s pleas to get non-OPEC members to cut in proportion to the bloc’s to-be-determined limits. The West Texas Intermediate (WTI) price settled to three-week lows once the report went public Tuesday afternoon.

  • Target plays up value for the holiday season
    Associated Press

    Target plays up value for the holiday season

    From a Broadway-style marketing campaign to more exclusive toys, Target wants to lure shoppers during the final critical months of the year. Since becoming CEO two years ago, Brian Cornell has been trying to reinvigorate Target's cheap-chic status and focusing on categories like fashion, home furnishings and wellness items. Despite the contentious presidential race, Cornell believes shoppers are more upbeat about their financial situation, given low unemployment, less-expensive foods and cheaper gas.

  • Anger still flares after judge OKs Volkswagen emissions deal
    Associated Press

    Anger still flares after judge OKs Volkswagen emissions deal

    A federal judge approved the largest auto-scandal settlement in U.S. history Tuesday, giving nearly a half-million Volkswagen owners and leaseholders the choice between selling their cars back or having them repaired so they don't cheat on emissions tests and spew excess pollution. U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer said the nearly $15 billion deal "adequately and fairly" compensates consumers and gets the polluting vehicles off the road as soon as possible. Under the agreement, owners can choose to have Volkswagen buy back their vehicle regardless of its condition for the full trade-in price on Sept. 18, 2015, when the scandal broke, or pay for repairs.

  • News
    Business Insider

    Here’s everything Microsoft just showed off — in under 3 minutes

    Everything you need to know about Microsoft's event today.

  • 3 No-Brainer Stocks to Buy for Retirement

    3 No-Brainer Stocks to Buy for Retirement

    Retirement investing is not what it used to be. In the old days, one could just invest in the “safe” stocks to buy, in “blue chips,” in a nice ladder of bonds, and do just fine. Alas, the market has significantly changed. Much of this is due to the historically low interest rates we’ve had. The problem with the Federal Reserve’s attempt to goose the economy is that it killed bond yields, forcing retired investors further out onto the risk curve, making it difficult to find safe stocks to buy. That has pushed stock prices far higher than they should be, if one subscribes (as I do) to the Peter Lynch theory that a stock’s price should reflect its net income growth rate to be added to a list of

  • 5 Simple Mistakes That Could Ruin Your Retirement

    5 Simple Mistakes That Could Ruin Your Retirement

    You can make a lot of mistakes in your youth … and assuming none of them get you killed or put in prison, you can generally recover from them. Time is on your side. But the closer you get to retirement, the less room for error you have. You can make a lot of mistakes in your youth … and assuming none of them get you killed or put in prison, you can generally recover from them. Time is on your side. But the closer you get to retirement, the less room for error you have. As your nest egg gets larger, investing mistakes cost you a lot more. Think about it. If you lose 30% on a $10,000 portfolio, you’re out $3,000. That might be a single after-tax paycheck when you’re young. But imagine losing 30%

  • News
    ABC News

    Ask Brianna: How Can I Get Help Paying for Graduate School?

    "Ask Brianna" is a Q&A column from NerdWallet for 20-somethings or anyone else starting out. I'm here to help you manage your money, find a job and pay off student loans — all the real-world stuff no one taught us how to do in college. Send your questions about postgrad life to Q: I want to get an advanced degree, but I'm not sure how to pay for it. How can I get financial aid as a graduate student? A: When I was unhappy at my job in my mid-20s, I daydreamed about going back to school the way some people long for a vacation to Costa Rica. I wanted to spar intellectually with professors instead of eating sad, solo lunches at my desk. I know this makes me a big nerd,

  • Business

    Western Digital Surges: FYQ2 View Tops Consensus

    [Updates with stock reversal] Shares of hard disk drive and NAND flash maker Western Digital (WDC) are down 47 cents, or 0.8%, at $56.05, in late trading, despite the company this afternoon reporting fiscal Q1 revenue and profit that topped its own pre-announcement of on September 7th. Revenue in the three months ended in September came in at $4.7 billion, yielding EPS of $1.28, excluding some costs. That was above the company’s pre-announced range of $4.45 billion to $4.55 billion, and $1 to $1.05 per share. The Street had been modeling $4.52 billion in revenue and $1.04 per share. CEO Steve Milligan said the company was “pleased” with the quarter, the first complete quarter since Western took

  • Strategist Tom Lee makes case for double-digit S&P 500 return by the end of 2016

    Strategist Tom Lee makes case for double-digit S&P 500 return by the end of 2016

    Stocks look poised to breakout and mount a traditional rally into the end of the year, longtime market bull Tom Lee told CNBC on Wednesday. Lee, co-founder of boutique research firm Fundstrat Global Advisors, put what he calls a "highly probable" 2016 price target on the S&P 500 (^GSPC) of 2,325. In 2015, the S&P 500 ended lower for the year, its worst year since 2008.

  • Gilead Sciences (GILD) Q3 Earnings: Stock to Disappoint?

    Gilead Sciences (GILD) Q3 Earnings: Stock to Disappoint?

    Gilead Sciences Inc. GILD is scheduled to report third-quarter 2016 results on Nov 1, after the market closes. Last quarter, the company had surpassed expectations with a positive earnings surprise of 0.33%.Gilead’s track record has been encouraging so

  • UA
    Fox Business

    Under Armour Investors Punish CEO Kevin Plank

    Under Armour (NYSE:UA) CEO Kevin Plank is starting to sound like a broken record and investors are losing patience. The stock is seeing its biggest single-day loss in eight years, amid heavy volume, even as Plank downplayed concerns about the company’s declining growth rate on Tuesday. This doesn’t mean the demand for the Under Armour brand has disappeared, but it certainly hasn’t reappeared dollar-for-dollar in our distribution,” a seemingly-frustrated Plank said during post-earnings conference call.