Tencent’s popular super app WeChat is taking another step to unblock access to rival platforms via external links. The incremental development is to comply with Beijing’s order to dismantle the walled gardens erected by major tech companies, according to a statement issued by Tencent on Monday.
In September, Tencent was ordered to unblock external links on WeChat, allowing users to access platforms such as Alibaba’s Taobao and ByteDance’s Douyin, but the adjustment was limited to private chats.
The new changes implemented on Monday removed the “warning” page that pops up every time users click on external links in the app. Tencent is also testing a function in WeChat that allows users to be directed to listings on external shopping sites in group chats; this feature will go online soon, said the company. Meanwhile, it is developing a management tool for users to choose whether they would like to enable external link functions in group chats and their Moments feeds.
WeChat has more than 1.25 billion monthly active users globally. The revamp is seen as an important step for regulators to crack down on anti-competitive behaviors as conglomerates vie for exclusive user engagement and time spent on their platforms.
For years, China’s largest internet companies have been blocking links to each other’s platforms. The so-called “walled gardens” strategy was used to protect their own internet ecosystems and stymie competitors. For example, Tencent and Alibaba both built barriers against each other, and Tencent and ByteDance have feuded over the matter.
In September, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) told the biggest tech companies, including Alibaba, Tencent, and ByteDance, to rectify this practice, which they said has disrupted market order, created unfair competition, and infringed upon the rights and data security of users.
The MIIT said in September that it had provided guidance to internet companies to perform “self-rectification” measures and dissolve external blocking policies, and will continue to lead the companies through the relevant steps to resolve the issue.
Tencent’s biggest rival, Alibaba, has also started to unblock links to platforms that are part of Tencent’s ecosystems. Some services owned by Alibaba, including food delivery app Ele.me, now allows users to settle orders using WeChat Pay. However, Alibaba’s flagship e-commerce sites, Taobao and Tmall, have yet to add WeChat Pay as a payment method. The platforms still block keywords related to Tencent, such as “Weixin,” WeChat’s Chinese name.