By the Blouin News Technology staff

Will content crackdowns hinder Chinese app expansion?

by in Media Tech.

The WhatsApp startup screen. Adam Berry/Getty Images

The WhatsApp startup screen. Adam Berry/Getty Images

China’s government continues its ongoing monitoring and removal of content on microblogging and messaging sites this month, but this time with participation from seven different web companies that are taking part in what is being called a cleanup of internet content. And one of the companies is the largest messaging service in China that is looking towards international expansion.

VISUAL CONTEXT: GROWTH OF CHINA’S WEB USERS

Source: China Internet Network Information Center

Source: China Internet Network Information Center

Reuters in Beijing quotes a state-run media source:

Some people are using this platform to disseminate negative, harmful or illegal information to the public, seriously damaging the internet system and hurting the public interest causing dissatisfaction among internet users.

As usual with such government-based cleanups, the removal of certain content deemed “illegal and harmful” could actually be a guise for removing content that dissents with the government. In previous stints of mass content removal, the government has penalized users on Weibo by removing their accounts in accordance with the seven baseline regulations for internet activity. Chinese state-run media has reported that this most recent cleanup process will continue for one month, and that the content removal is aimed at rumors, prostitution, fraud, and black market items. Particular apps — including the vastly popular WeChat — are the main targets of this cleanup.

Tencent owns WeChat — the Chinese version of which is called Weixin — and had plans to push for international usage of the popular app. Having to comply with the Chinese government’s crackdown on content published throughout the app does not bode well for the company’s global expansion. TheNextWeb quotes Poshu Yeung, vice president of the international business group at Tencent, on the company’s long-intended growth:

WeChat is designed for international markets while Weixin aims to serve users in Mainland China, and as such are operated on separate infrastructures and supported by different teams.

But WeChat is going to need a strategy to get into markets that already have widely-used messaging services. WeChat has nearly 400 million active users according to Tech in Asia, but U.S.-based (and now Facebook-owned) WhatsApp has over 500 million users. The only other messaging service the comes close to the numbers of users of these two applications is Japan’s Line with about 350 million active. Given the regional popularity of such messaging apps, WeChat could see a few obstacles in its way of expanding into international — particularly Western — markets. Combine the competition, Chinese government censorship and content-removal practices, with the constantly-brewing espionage claims and cyber-spying accusations that regularly fly between the U.S. and China, and there are more than a few skeptics about WeChat’s potential international success.