A Chinese lawyer challenges Tencent over anti-monopoly law

Tencent’s WeChat messenger is famous for limiting the way it lets its users share links to content on competing platforms.

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A Chinese lawyer challenges Tencent over anti-monopoly law

The Beijing Intellectual Property Court has accepted a case in which Tencent is sued for infringing a Chinese citizen’s freedom of communication and violating China’s anti-monopoly law, reported Chinese media outlet The Paper on Monday.

Zhang Zhengxin is the plaintiff in the country’s first civil case between an individual and Tencent in an anti-monopoly case. His story goes like this: On April 13 he found he wasn’t able to directly send a link to a book sold on Taobao, nor a link to a short video on Douyin, to his friends via his WeChat account. He needed to take many extra steps to finally communicate his message to his friend.

On the same day, Zhang, who is a lawyer himself, noted that he could without problem send links to products on JD.com and Pinduoduo, as well as links to videos on Weishi to his friends via WeChat.

Tencent is a shareholder of both JD.com and Pinduoduo. It also owns Weishi and, of course, WeChat itself. Taobao, on the other hand, belongs to Tencent’s rival Alibaba. Douyin belongs to ByteDance, another competitor.

Zhang argues that WeChat’s core function is to distribute words, photos, video messages and also web links. Limiting this function to apps within Tencent’s ecosystem hurts his right to free communication.

He added that Tencent, which has a dominant position in the market, is inhibiting competition in the mobile commerce and the mobile short video markets with this behavior.

Earlier this year WeChat also banned the sharing of links from three social apps namely Duoshan, Liaotianbao, and Matong, on this platform, which led to more people questioning whether this constitutes a violation of anti-monopoly law. Tencent defended itself by claiming these apps were in violation of its code of conduct.

WeChat has been limiting the way Taobao links can be shared on its messaging app for years. This had the effect that Taobao came up with a workaround. It invented the so-called Taokouling (Taobao Password) with which Taobao users can get messages shared to their friends or relatives on WeChat. Recipients must copy a code snippet and paste it into Taobao to open the link.

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Editor: Nadine Freischlad