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Messaging format
Community Anyone who creates an account
Membership open, free, registered
Privacy features that support privacy
Self Identity features that support identity
Features Messaging, Ride Sharing, Payment
Launch Date January 21, 2011
Users 1 billion

WeChat is a Chinese multi-purpose app developed by Tencent with a monthly user base of more than 1 billion people. While it started out as a messaging service, it has since evolved to include many new functions. These functions include posting moments, calling a cab, sending payments, and booking flights.

About WeChat

WeChat is a social media communication platform that is used by 1 billion users internationally, with the majority of accounts in China. Tencent Holdings Limited started the platform in 2011, and currently owns it. WeChat has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years, and is now estimated to be responsible for the exchange of 38 billion messages daily. While its primary function is to allow communication between users, it has developed into a multi-purpose, one-stop-shop for a variety of things. Through WeChat, users can “play games, pay bills, find local hangout, book doctor appointments, file police reports, hail taxis, hold video conferences, and access bank services”, and that isn’t even the extensive list of all WeChat’s functionalities. WeChat has also been in talks with the Chinese government to move even closer to becoming China’s official app by integrating individuals’ official, state-issued ID into the platform. [1]

The Rise of WeChat

The Chinese government has subsidized WeChat ever since its inception in 2011. [1] In this sense, the government has had a certain hold on the platform from the very beginning. Although there was some government control, WeChat was not heavily censored or monitored in its infancy. Weibo, China’s Twitter, was used by a significantly larger number of people, and received most of the government’s attention. The government began cracking down on Weibo user’s real identities, and was able to easily identify anyone who had opinions that differed from the governments. Weibo users began moving to WeChat as their main platform for communication because of the less stringent censorship, which is what initially led WeChat to gain traction in China. The higher the number of users WeChat received, the more monitoring the government put onto the platform, restarting the cycle that led users away from Weibo. [2]

WeChat Features


WeChat has many similar features as WhatsApp. It provides text messaging, hold-to-talk voice messaging, broadcast messaging, video calling, sharing of photographs and videos and location sharing. WeChat Shake is a feature to search for people nearby by shaking one's mobile phone when location is enabled.


Moments is the social feed for friends updates, much like Facebook's News Feed. Users can post images, status updates, leave comments on others' posts and even share music here. Users can also link their Moments to their Facebook and Twitter accounts, which enables them to automatically post content on Moments directly to these two platforms.


WeChat Pay is a digital wallet service incorporated into WeChat, allowing users to perform mobile payments and send money between contacts. Users can link their Chinese bank account, Visa, Mastercard and JCB to Wechat Pay. Once linked, users can pay with WeChat for almost anything in China, from supermarkets to street vendors to taxis. Instant money transfers to one's WeChat contacts can also be made via the messaging function, which is convenient for splitting bills when dining out with friends.

In 2014, WeChat introduced a feature for distributing virtual red envelopes to send money to contacts and group chats as gifts for Chinese New Year. When sent to groups, the money will either be distributed equally or in random shares. This feature increased the adoption of WeChat Pay significantly, where its user base expanded from 30 million to 100 million users just a month after its launch. Two years later, 3.2 billion red envelopes were sent over the holiday period, and 409,000 alone were sent at midnight on Chinese New Year [3].


A mini program is an app within an app, and users can choose to install these inside the WeChat app. Users can also play games within the app. Mini Programs enable businesses to sell directly to consumers on the app, using WeChat Pay as the payment mechanism.

WeChat has created an ecosystem whereby users can do almost everything on the app, from messaging, posting content, following brands and using mini programs to find locations, buy products and pay utility bills. It has all the features of Facebook, WhatsApp, Yelp, Uber, Venmo, Instagram and Twitter all in one. Users can even access other social media and game apps such as Weibo, RED, Tencent Games, and many others without downloading them on their phone, improving accessibility and convenience.

Privacy on WeChat

It is clear now that there are many things setting WeChat apart from platforms in China that are either blocked or censored to the point where they lose their usability (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp). There are significant differences between the privacy policy and encryption of WeChat, and those of blocked platforms in China. For starters, WeChat doesn’t use end-to-end encryption, unlike that of similar apps such as WhatsApp. Instead, they censor messages and posts on the server side, meaning that no message is truly private. [4] Additionally, WeChat’s privacy policy includes a section that states that user data will be retained for as long as it is needed in order to follow government laws. Given these excessive censorship methods, Tencent (developed WeChat) was given a 0/100 on Amnesty International’s report on user privacy. [5] In spite of all these facts, Tencent would still like users to “rest assured, respecting user privacy has always been one of WeChat’s most important principles”, and China had previously claimed that they didn’t censor the Internet or block VPNs. [6]

Banned Words and Phrases

The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab research group recently did a study of specific words banned by the government. The current list includes some expected words and phrases, but also some more obscure ones. Among censored words and phrases are ‘Xitler’ (a play on words with the name of China’s current president, Xi Jin Ping), Middle Way + Dalai Lama (when used in conjunction with one another), 1989 year + crackdown on students, and Xi Jinping took office + officials commit suicide + abnormal death. [7] This list is constantly updated with the evolution of real-life events, so there isn’t huge gain to be made by deciphering all of the currently blocked words.


The government recently rolled out a new initiative to encourage social media users to self-censor their activity online. They gave group administrators full responsibility for topics discussed in their groups, meaning that if one member of the group was to speak against the government, the facilitator of the group would be blamed. Given WeChat’s capability of holding upwards of 500 people in a single group, this is a heavy responsibility for administrators to bear. As a result, this scared many people into avoiding groups in which they were administrators, and even deleting groups that they were previously administrators for. [8]

Blocked Messages

Historically, WeChat users would be informed if a photo they posted or a message they sent contained sensitive content that didn’t allow it to be delivered. However, WeChat changed its way of handling the matter by removing the notification that the message sent had been blocked. Now, WeChat users are able to see their own blocked messages and photos, but will never know whether it was actually delivered to the receiving end unless they specifically ask the person. [9]

The Future of WeChat and Privacy

Willy Shih, a Harvard Business School Professor of Management, stated when asked about privacy in China, “It’s not an issue over there because you don’t have any privacy”. On a similar note, Matt Wright, director of emerging markets at AngelHack, stated about China, "it’s culturally ingrained that the government has access to your life”. [10] This spotlights a serious ethical issue that needs to be confronted, but WeChat is doing the exact opposite. By working in conjunction with the government, WeChat is bringing the government one step closer to gaining complete control over communication in China and is responsible for the country taking steps backwards in the realm of human rights, as shown by the 709 crackdown. [11] As WeChat develops more use cases, it will become increasingly difficult for users to leave the platform. This is often referred to as network effects. It becomes increasingly disadvantageous for users to leave as WeChat gains popularity. Leaving the platform will mean needing to carry around physical credit cards, finding new ways to perform daily tasks such as calling a taxi, and overall, leaving convenience and community behind. This increase in use cases is happening simultaneously with the increase in government censorship, and raises uncertainty for the future of WeChat and whether the government will seize complete control over it.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Liao, Shannon. "How WeChat Came to Rule China" (1 February 2018. Retrieved on 14 March 2018.)
  2. Chen, Lulu Yilun. "China's Latest Crackdown on Message Groups Chills WeChat Users" (12 September 2017. Retrieved on 14 March 2018.)
  3. Chao, Eveline. How WeChat Became China’s App For Everything (2 January 2017. Retrieved on 26 April 2019.)
  4. Sonnad, Nikhil. "What happens when you try to send politically sensitive messages on WeChat" (17 April 2017. Retrieved on 14 March 2018.)
  5. Liao, Shannon. "How WeChat Came to Rule China" (1 February 2018. Retrieved on 14 March 2018.)
  6. Greene, Tristan. "China’s censorship crackdown targets WeChat, Weibo, and Baidu" (1 August 2017. Retrieved on 14 March 2018.)
  7. Sonnad, Nikhil. "What happens when you try to send politically sensitive messages on WeChat" (17 April 2017. Retrieved on 14 March 2018.)
  8. Chen, Lulu Yilun. "China's Latest Crackdown on Message Groups Chills WeChat Users" (12 September 2017. Retrieved on 14 March 2018.)
  9. Sonnad, Nikhil. "What happens when you try to send politically sensitive messages on WeChat" (17 April 2017. Retrieved on 14 March 2018.)
  10. Liao, Shannon. "How WeChat Came to Rule China" (1 February 2018. Retrieved on 14 March 2018.)
  11. Amnesty International. "CHINA'S CRACKDOWN ON HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYERS" (22 June 2016. Retrieved on 14 March 2018.)