Tencent is recruiting a small group of users to test its WeChat-specific keyboard input protocol, known as Weixin Shurufa (“Tencent Input”), a tech blogger named Yue Laosan revealed on Monday.
Since the dawn of China’s mobile internet era, tech companies have created proprietary and customized keyboards for Chinese character input on smartphones. The most popular keyboards were created by Sogou and Baidu, while Xiaomi’s has also gained popularity in recent years.
But now, Allen Zhang, the legendary creator of WeChat, is looking to roll out Tencent’s own proprietary input tool for the app he made. Zhang first revealed the plan to launch a WeChat-specific keyboard during a keynote speech he gave at the WeChat Open Class event in January. He framed the move as one that will protect the personal data of WeChat users.
Zhang specifically pointed to questions over whether the developers of app-based keyboards sold data mined from WeChat conversations to advertisers, because WeChat users had noted they frequently encounter ads that related to phrases they had typed into WeChat. These ads would show up in other apps as well. Zhang said only industry insiders could trace how this data was handled, without offering further elaboration. Later on, he said that Tencent’s engineers suggested that the company should develop Weixin Shurufa to maintain the integrity of their users’ data.
Popular keyboards, even those that are widely adopted, do track user data and actions. Gboard, Google’s default keyboard on Pixel devices and a popular option that hit the milestone of 1 billion installs in 2018, does exactly that.
Sogou, which operates the most popular input tool in China, said it would welcome Weixin Shurufa as a competitor, but cast doubt over whether it could become a popular alternative, according to Yue Laosan.
Sogou’s shares are traded on the New York Stock Exchange. It disclosed in September 2020 that it will be acquired by Tencent and delist from the NYSE, after Tencent made a USD 2.1 billion bid in July to make Sogou its subsidiary. The deal was expected to close in Q4 last year, but no new developments have been announced since then.