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To Cover China, There’s No Substitute for WeChat (nytimes.com)
150 points by annefauvre 60 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 205 comments



If you're a foreigner, getting a functioning WeChat account is near to impossible these days. Validating a foreign account involves sponsorship from a local account. Local accounts can only sponsor one user every three months.

This is a policy that has been getting steadily more and more restrictive. I have partners who simply give westerners a telephone with a new account + Sim loaded and bound to a local to avoid hassles.

Life in China today without WeChat is a bit like life in the USA today but communicating only by postal mail and paying for things with traveller's cheques. It's possible, but it's not a world you want to live in.

If WeChat is taking over the world.. it's a world without foreigners.


> If you're a foreigner, getting a functioning WeChat account is near to impossible these days.

You are confusing Wechat with Wechat Pay which is a feature of the former. You only need a mobile phone # (foreign or domestic) to sign up for WeChat. As for Wechat Pay, getting a bank account should be fairly easy if you live in China.


Unfortunately no longer the case. All account validations for foreigners require the above hoops to be jumped through - at least as of yesterday when we were jumping through them to activate the account of two EU clients - chat only, not payments. I may be incorrect (and I hope for any other foreigners wanting to use WeChat this is the case) - but I witnessed two data points to the contrary yesterday.


I can corroborate that we were unable to activate a wechat account for my (western) friend. Not payments, just a normal chat account.

Upon registration, Wechat asked him to get someone to confirm/sponsor his account. I tried to, and was told that my account couldn't verify other accounts because my account was suspicious.

I then solicited my spouse's help. She managed to go through the process of verifying his account, but when I told my friend to try logging in again, he said he was still marked as "suspicious" and wasn't able to log in

Edit: this was recent (last week)


Of course he was marked as suspicious: he previously tried to get a suspicious person to sponsor him. :)


By suspicious do you mean, identity fraud related issue or your social credit score was not high enough?


10 months ago, I arrived in Shanghai for a week-long business trip and was able to create a WeChat account, but unable to add funds to Wechat Pay by any mechanisms available to me...I had cash from the airport but it took giving some cash to my local sponsor and having them send me some funds to do something as simple as ride a rental bike.


Sounds like you just found a business opportunity for people in china.


There actually are businesses that will validate your account for you (if you are really willing to give them your username and password), and others that will send you money through the app that you can then spend to some degree (1000CNY max balance, 200CNY max sent at a time) without having a Chinese bank account of your own. They do charge way more than the exchange rate for this service.


I signed up for wechat about a month ago in the US without any issues.


I signed up for WeChat a few months ago, and later found out that WeChat was warning my Chinese friends that my account was unverified and to be careful. I had no idea it was telling them this until one of them told me.

I was also unable to log into the web/desktop client. The error message just said that for security reasons, only verified accounts were allowed to use WeChat through the web, but didn't give any instructions on how to get the account verified.


That's essentially a spam protection feature. Because WeChat has so few non-Chinese users, most "foreign" accounts are actually made by spammers. So you're graylisted until they become confident you're an actual human. I've only seen that warning message about an unverified account once among the 100+ foreign WeChat contacts I have (most of them Pakistanis), but I seem to recall that the warning also included an option to verify the contact. Obviously they don't want to give spammers a way to directly verify themselves.


Since 2018,newly created Wechat Account isn't able to login via Web Wechat anymore,using Windows WeChat is ok. If you don't keep your account active everyday through browsing or sending message, WeChat may be lock you out, saying it needs to verify the account.


"The error message just said that for security reasons, only verified accounts were allowed to use WeChat through the web"

If non-verified accounts were to have access to WeChat web, it would be significantly easier for people to operate bots on WeChat personal accounts, by spoofing the client as per this framework:

https://github.com/Chatie/wechaty


Interesting. I connected to my wife (who is originally from mainland China) and her family and I do not think they saw any warnings when chatting with me.


I signed up a few weeks ago. It worked for about a week, until I tried to sign in on a desktop.

I think some number of non-China mobile numbers need verification out of the box. And they've banned most VOIP/Virtual numbers from signing up; you can't use a Google Voice number, for instance.

Then, if you do sign up, there are hair-triggers on "suspicious use." But "suspicious use" means having multiple devices, asking for a password reset, not uploading a profile photo fast enough, or more than a few weeks of non-use.

All of those things are typical for foreign visitors, who don't have Chinese friends to verify them.


One thing that I ran into pretty quickly was there are different versions of WeChat: the chinese one and the -- in my case -- American one. When I was in China early last year I needed to get invited to properly set up my account. I absolutely was not able to use WeChat Pay which was quite frustrating tbh. Basically the American version is a striped down version where you can chat with the Chinese version, but WeChat Pay is not even an option and sending/receiving red letters is also not possible.


Same, although I had a friend who signed up around the same time who needed to go through some verification after using it for a few months.


wechat international account is not fully interoperatable with wechat china.


I signed up for wechat after reading this article... no hoops for me (in the USA)


Welp. I went to sign in again after three days and my account was suspended. I have to find a 6 month user of WeChat who hasn’t approved too many wechat users to approve me.

I think it may be because I didn’t upload my contacts. Or possibly because I didn’t add anyone and start chatting. But maybe it was because I’m in the US. (Or a bit of each)


There are two versions of WeChat, one for China and one for the rest of the world. The latter is trivial to join, but it's completely firewalled off from the Chinese one.


I don't think this is true. I've been using Wechat from US. I can see all the people's moments in China and in some groups fine. All the services I've tried so far have worked okay.


I also don't think this is true. I've been using a US based version of WeChat for a couple years now, and I have had no problems adding and chatting with people in and outside of China. I do want to add that while I didn't have to jump through any hoops to activate my account, I've had westener friends get stuck on having to be verified. I can't remember if I was able to vouch for them or not.


I looked into this for my business. I think you can talk to Chinese users, but there are restrictions on how your own content is seen and broadcast.

Can't remember the specifics though.


I was in a wedding in China, so naturally WeChat was how the groomsman communicated. Afterwards, I was looking forward to staying in touch with whom I met there. While in transit back to California my account was marked suspicious. I was never able to gain access again. I created a new WeChat account that works, but would've enjoyed having my original.


From experience, this is simply not true. My version of wechat is registered with a US phone number, installed from the google play store on a google phone, not sponsored, and while I can't put money into wechat pay my friend can still transfer it

You can also still use all the social features everyone is used to in China.


> while I can't put money into wechat pay my friend can still transfer it

Really? I've had people send me red packets but I can't accep them as I don't have a Chinese bank account or Chinese ID


Can you talk to Chinese users?


Same situation here, and I talk to Chinese friends exclusevly through WeChat


That's completely untrue. There is no firewall at all. I'm using it right now.


This is not true. I signed up using my Australian mobile number, the wechat app was downloaded from Google Store which is not even accessible in China.


The validation procedure is not required when signing up. Validation happens only when your account changes login device or you try password too many times. It works as a security feature and has nothing to do with whether your account's phone number is foreign or not. The procedure requires you identify people from your wechat contact or ask friends sending message to your account. It's fairly easy and your friends don't have to be local at all.


You're not talking about the same thing at all.


So what should tourists do now?


Not true


I have to second this. I recently lived in China for a few months. As long as you have an address, visa, and passport(and are willing to hand the Chinese government your social) it’s easy to get a bank account.

that was scary


You need to give the Chinese government your US SSN? Please tell me I have misunderstood.


I believe almost international banks require SSN for US citizens. It’s a US thing and why Swiss banks are less popular. US IRS doesn’t want its citizens to hide money in other countries and pressures foreign countries to comply


Heh, then I guess you do not know the lengths the IRS goes to track the income of US persons wherever they are. Double taxation of US citizens has even pushed some dual citizens to renounce their US citizenship...


Then IRS should have information about foreign accounts. And guess what, they already ask for that. It's fine.

The other way around is what I find concerning.


The IRS requires that local banks take the personal data of US citizens simply because it does not trust Americans to cooperate willingly. And I think that's a fair assessment, because no one would willingly pay taxes to two countries at once.


When I was in China, they accepted my US passport number for things like opening bank accounts. Things may have changed, but I doubt it.


You have to do that in pretty much any foreign country because of FATCA — assuming they’ll allow you to open a bank account at all.


No banks ask me for my SSN in Thailand when I open accounts. They report as required by FATCA. Presumably your US passport number is adequate.


To add more specifics to the other comments:

If you're required to pay taxes in the US for any reason, you have to give just about any bank in the world that will accept you either an IRS form W9 (citizen or "US person") or W8-BEN (anyone else).

The US government requires this.


That's because of FACTA. I know some banks over here (France/Western Europe) outright refuse US clients because they don't want to deal with that stuff.


They probably already have it anyways. From the extensive apt campaigns.


China and the US have a bilateral agreement about this I believe. It's to make sure Chinese citizens aren't storing money in the US and vice-versa. I imagine a US bank would do something similar to a Chinese national.


Nothing to do with the bilateral agreement, it’s because of FATCA.


> If WeChat is taking over the world.. it's a world without foreigners.

From the point of view of the Chinese government authorities, this is a feature, not a bug.

China has effectively segmented the "Internet" into two categories, those things with servers/centralized authority hosted domestically in China, subject to the Ministry of State Security, and things outside the Great Firewall on the "foreign" Internet.

I would be entirely unsurprised if at some point in the future the government requires their domestic ISPs to use a Chinese-hosted set of root nameservers other than the ICANN lettered roots.


Isn't WeChat closely monitored by the Chinese government? I'm not sure why anyone outside of China would want to use it (seems like volunteering to be wiretapped).

At least in the US or other western countries there some legal restrictions on the government for accessing private messages.

In China there's probably not much of a choice.


“Foreigner” doesn’t imply “outside of China” — there are plenty of foreigners living in China and they have every reason to need to use WeChat.


communication with friends or family in china, mostly. when most common western social media has no foothold in china - or is simply blocked - getting a wechat account is the simplest way to stay in contact.

and i'd imagine most of those people don't care much if the chinese government is spying on their baby photos or vacation albums.


I just created an account (in Europe) on an android device. Is that any different from yours story?


You may find within X days (one week to three weeks) your account will be locked, with the only means available to unblock by jumping through the hoops above.

I watched three locals take literally one hour yesterday to validate one account for an EU foreigner, and my other EU partners have had experiences similar to yours: works for a few days then locks.

If it works for you.. feel lucky.


I've had this ongoing experience for the past two weeks after coming back from a business trip in Shanghai & BJ. Luckily I made a few contacts who were able to help out.

https://i.imgur.com/37VqCZa.jpg

https://i.imgur.com/XRJuQjj.jpg


Yeah I got blocked for being a "scammer" as well. Only needed it to communicate with 2 people..


I think that's a different type of WeChat account that doesn't require validation.


I was in Shanghai for business (first time) and couldn't link my credit card to Alipay or WeChat. Luckily the business who invited me paid for everything and took me out each night. Tried 2 separate cards from US companies. I only had to pay one taxi and had some cash, but it felt off doing so.


I have an older account so avoided most of the validation hell, but I cannot link even Hong Kong payment cards to the account.

Every time I come over, I hand a fistfull of cash to a local, who will send me the equivalent in WeChat.

From what I understand on new foreign accounts, even this loophole is closed.


I have 72 CNY in my wallet, but since it is not verified with a bank account (I closed them before I left the country) I am now unable to make any payments or accept any payments. This was a security move put into place in the last couple years because the have-friend-send-money-you-gave-cash-for method definitely used to work.


Damn I was using the whole venmo red envelope swappero method to fund myself the last time I was there, only a couple months back. If I can't do that anymore when I go, it's honestly not worth going.


It still works. At least last fall.


What is this Venmo method?


I'd be surprised if it's nothing more than sending a local money with Venmo and having them send you a red packet in exchange.


Essentially this. But I _highly_ recommend finding a dual national wherever you are and transferring money before you get over there. This will ensure that you can pay for things right when you land, and is also less likely to result in some kind of fee that a local will want to charge you.

I mostly only ever go to China For work (Way better parties to be had in Hong Kong imo), and luckily I have some cool Chinese coworkers who will transfer me straight dollars to yuan. I usually send them 2K USD, they send me an equivalent amount of yuan in a red envelope, I use whatever i use while there, and then I'll send them whatever i don't use back and they'll venmo me back USD.

Then it's just a matter of getting finance to reimburse me for purchases whos receipts are screen shots of QR codes.

I've debated spinning up a startup around this, charging some really low fee, but I seems like I'll get into trouble with KYC laws pretty quick.


I signed up for Alipay to help pay for AliExpress transactions.

The passwords are 6 numerical digits only...


That's the best part I like if you have chance to read its super complicated restrictions & risk monitoring system specs.


I am reading this from Shanghai, drinking beers with a group of foreigners and no one has heard of this or had any problems like this. Can you give more evidence?


It depends very specifically when your accounts were made. Mine has 5+ years - had no problems. Friends trying to make accounts in the last 6 months have had huge issues. Posting from Shenzhen.


It’s hard but we did it a week or two back for our current travels in China. Wechatpay is accepted everywhere- either by you sending money to the buyer (smaller retailers, requires your phone to be online) or by the retailer scanning you (larger retailers, you can be offline). E.g. At a large high quality restaurant we were at yesterday we could not pay them at the table so we went to the checkout and the scanned. Credit cards are not useful except for pulling cash out of ATMs or at really western stores. Cash is only as a backstop, or perhaps to ask someone to send you wechatpay balance. I found it easier to sign up to wechat(pay) than TransferWise, who have 3 potential authentication methods and none work as advertised in my country. WeChatPay works because of the higher level of trust the app enforces. The retail economy is being run on these systems and that trust is critical. Facebook, Twitter and google have arguably thrown away any chance they had of doing universal payments through their poor ability to ensure trust - far from it.


What do you mean with regards trust? Which party can't be trusted enough for say Google Pay to work in a retail scenario?


You can now Setup WeChat Pay in HK, which is actually a different system to WeChat Pay in China, and be able to pay in China. Money will be deducted from your HK account converting your payment from RMB to HKD. You can link a Credit Card, Debit Card in your WeChat Pay HK or simply top up some money in any convenience Store.

However you will not be able to Top up your WeChat Pay HK within China (yet).

I have never tried to tied a foreign Credit Card to a WeChat Pay HK Account, but in theory since it is in HK there is no reason why it wouldn't work. Although I expect there will be a higher exchange rate to cover up the processing fees.

So in theory you don't even need to stop by HK to have this sort out, you just download the WeChat Pay Apps in HK ( I suspect you have to change App Store region ) to get it done. But in case you want to witness the largest Concrete Jungle in the world you are welcome to stop by.


It actually still isn’t that bad. Keep in mind that China’s use of cash rate is still much higher than the USA, so people still take cash, and UnionPay, and so on...


>China’s use of cash rate is still much higher than the USA

Is this regional, or perhaps urban vs rural? On my recent trip, I didn't see anyone using cash. Everyone used their phone. I bought coffee with cash at a Starbucks -- all the cash in their cash register was in a single roll held together with a rubber band. It was used so infrequently that they didn't use the trays or separate the bills.


China is a huge country. The differences between a 1st tier city and a 3rd tier city are huge, and there are many kids 3rd tier cities than 1st. Also keep in mind that until recently, most transactions were cash, no checks and even bank transfers were hard. That means I used to have to bag around 20k RMB/3 months to pay rent, not fun since the biggest bill was the 100 kuai note (it got better later). Those famous shanghai man purses weren’t just for show (what if you had to buy a car)! The current mobile payment system is a huge improvement, but many people still have to use cash, especially the poorer and underbanked.

Anyways, think about how much cash you use in the states? I think I last withdrew cash 6 months ago? And I haven’t used all of that yet, since there is maybe one Asian bakery I know of that charges for using a CC. The USA was already way ahead of the game on non-cash payments (via checks and then cards) and that has only accelerated since (not as fast as china’s move to mobile payments, but starting from a much higher level). So ues, even if they aren’t using cash in big Chinese cities, they aren’t using it in USA cities either.

Since as a foreigner I was never able to use wechat pay myself (the rules kept changing, but when I tried early on they couldn’t do anything without my Chinese ID number), I used to have to use UnionPay and cash for all of my financial transactions. So that was the end of 2016 when I left, more than a couple of years, so I’m a bit out of date. When I moved back the states, I became cashless again (having been cashless before moving to China in Europe and the USA).


Yeah my bet is definitely that rural is aggregated into that, if the stat is true. In the cities nobody uses paper money.


False.

Even the most faraway small villages residents use Alipay or WeChat, they don't even know what is a POS or ATM.


False. China has a cash propensity of 35%, the USA is at 11%. Those numbers are for 2018. China still falls behind all developed economies in the Asian region for non-cash transactions.

https://s3.amazonaws.com/fetch_production/assets/524432/The%...


False.

World Payments Report 2018 https://worldpaymentsreport.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2...

China ranks the third of non-cash transactions organization after Eurozone and USA, and with its rate of growing, China will become the #1 in 2021, aka 3 years later.

Actually, in 2016, WeChat alone has already reached 500M transition/day[1].

As for cash propensity, it has nothing to do with non-cash transactions. Chinese ppl just love keeping lots of money in their bank accounts.

[1] http://www.sohu.com/a/129980516_324659


Your source says that China ranks third after USA and Eurozone by total number of non-cash transactions. It does not imply anything about the share of non-cash among all transactions. Considering that China has more inhabitants than either of the other regions, the share of non-cash transactions should be quite low, or they wouldn't rank third.


I saw by the other comments this is not related to wechat pay. wechat pay have been a hassle to use for at foreigner fields for some years now.

Life without wechat in China is ok, but wechatPay helps a lot. In Zhejiang province and other industrial hubs Alipay is widely used, even by the little cigarrette shop seller, but most places this is most WechatPay's territorial waters, yes, maybe because Alibaba's birth of place is Zhejiang.

Many years ago I helped a cooperating individual and had to buy a Phone inside China, could not get Phone device from abroad to pay things with WechatPay by any means.

Later,could not make transactions after a while, even walking in person inside a foreign branch of ICBC, having accounts both in the same name in a China's local branch of ICBC and at the said foreigner branch, and firstly to have an account in a foreign branch is not easy, so thigs are getting hard indeed for wechatPay abroad.

Even my "personal" wechat, in a phone that is decadely old, with decadely old wechat account, has suffered a rather strange and suspiciously unexpected cut on the maximum amount of financial transaction limit.

I don't go down south for long time, but the current chairman of China seems going in the completely wrong way, is already enough to get worried, it seems what was left of the directions set by Hujintao and wenjiabao, at this point are all gone. Expected a bit, they were/are(it is unclear) kind of enemy groups, but this is already ridiculous.

Margareth Thatchers way of detecting interior confict lead Weakness of mind and Weakness of power itself doesn't fail. It was already seen coming by the placing of stupid warmongering ridiculous tapes on subway monitors the first week after assuming the presidency. Probably sources are born lack of confidence and Fear of ucraine\arabspring phenomenons. Sure not a excuse for stupidity. very Bad for world's Hummanitarian\left-leaning-Freedom/Fraternity "long" term.

:by the other hand, Thailand is giving great unexpected hopes.

:the worst of all this is that probably the "numberous fish school defense" provided by using a Billion persons of interest's Chat tool, monitered by government that has adult-like more important things to do, is defeated at this point, so...look for some other non-zuckerb chat tool now.


The combination of Wechat and making it effectively the only option through the Great Firewall is an amazing tool for shutting out foreign voices from Chinese social media. The apparent policy on connecting to Wechat from outside the mainland is "don't".

It seems incredible that people would want to use such a restrictive service when much more open ones exist, but the others routinely have their service degraded by the government so they aren't a viable option.

Personally, it think in the long term this sort of compartmentalization is harmful, it too often facilitates groupthink and missing valuable input from people with a different perspective. It's damaging to a society and is going to have repercussions.


Not just foreign voices. Domestic chinese voices as well. As technology/money becomes intertwined, it's scary how easily large tech companies can silence and ruin people's lives. Even worse, just the threat of these companies can silence voices. As china and the rest of the world move away from cash to digital payment, can anyone really risk offending wechat or any other tech/payment service?

Unfortunately, we are having similar problems here as well as our large tech/finance companies (social media, registrars, paypal, patreon, stripe, mastercard, etc ) are being used to silence voices and intimidate people.

Even more worrisome is the effect that money and investment from our largest foreign investors china, saudi arabia, israel, etc will have going forward. Will tech censor even more to appease large foreign investors? We know how foreign money and investment affects everything from hollywood to news coverage to politics. Can tech be immune from that?


It should be noted that the digital payment system China is moving to is Wechat. If you try to go to the mainland and use cash outside of tourist areas you quickly run into trouble. Even for things that most people assume are cash run, like Taxis.


> It seems incredible that people would want to use such a restrictive service when much more open ones exist

There’s a lot more stick than carrot from the government to connecting outside, so a lot of people are just avoiding concequences rather than doing what they want. OTOH, we complain about the same problems in our “free/open” internet as well.


> It seems incredible that people would want to use such a restrictive service when much more open ones exist,

Network effects. Look into any thread here about people quitting FB. You'll see several valid use cases showing why people stay on the platform despite its serious flaws.


Wechat is pretty good if you're in China. You can use it to do everything (payments, taxi, tickets, transfer, calls, games) versus having tons of miscellaneous poor apps. Every store and even panhandlers accept Wechat. I'm in the middle of SF and every place is still on cash only or no mobile payments such that it's unreasonable to depend on mobile payments.


I just came back from visiting SF and didn’t have to use cash at all; I had food, drink, I went to the grocery store....even Caltrain took credit cards (but it did 12 years ago). What did I do wrong?

Living in Seattle, I haven’t been to an ATM in 6 months. The last time I had to use cash was ironically in Boston China town (a cheap Banh Mi place wouldn’t take credit cards).


I had to use the BART the other day. The choices were $2.50 in cash or use a card where the minimum was $20 to fill a pass. I choose cash since I’m not from the Bay Area.

I don’t know about Seattle, but in California most recreational cannabis stores don’t accept card so that was another couple of hundred dollars I had to withdraw and use this week.


Caltrain accepts CC payments for single trip tickets, why is BART different?

Marijuana is unique because banks won’t go near it because the federal government still thinks weed is illegal. Marijuana dispensaries aren’t even allowed bank accounts as a result, something that would surely happen in China as well :).


Yeah, sorry I meant they either accept only cash or don't accept mobile payments. Most places take credit. But many still don't (often Asian / Mexican places). Even credit card is a poor experience, you insert the chip, have to wait like 15 seconds versus an instant QR scan that takes no time. And you have to do a signature with a pen...how antiquated!

My point was more that mobile payments are not ubiquitous yet, and enough places are cash only that you still have to think about carrying cash just in case. I only mention cash as an extreme, as opposed to China, where everywhere accepts mobile payments even like street food, which is funny given SF is a tech center.


Most chip cards have NFCs in them, you can do tap on many POS’s. It isn’t as nice as Australia where tap to pay is more ubiquitous, but I find it more convenient than fiddling with my phone to get a QR code up and under a camera.

The reason street food is not well developed in SF is that there simply isn’t much street food. If small store holders and credit card free food vans were more of a thing, well, they could use Square or something. A developed economy is basically just structured very differently from a developing one, where most consumer transactions occur between big businesses that have no problem using checks or CC or debit cards or ApplePay or whatever.

On the other hand, China never had checks and CCs never caught on, debit cards were eventually supported though in annoying ways (PIN AND sign, WTF???). CCs are even worse: in China, the burden of proof is in the consumer rather than the merchant, so Chinese CC holders are actively targeted abroad for fraud (eg restaurants in Bellevue WA targeting Chinese visitors with ICBC AmEx cards because they know ICBC is a shit bank). They skipped all that, and found QR codes and phones a great way to catch up. I think that is great, but they haven’t really surpassed the deceloped world l, they’ve just adapted well to their own situation.


Quite a few bars, and restaurants in the Mission, are cash-only.


This has nothing to do with lack of technology adoption and everything to do with avoiding taxes.


And transaction fees


Are they really worried about the CC fee on $15 drink?


Yes absolutely, if they care about profit margins.


But not if they cared about sales volume. That is just really dumb for an expensive impulse buy like alcohol. Even McDonalds can afford to take CCs these days.


That's not how cc fees works. McDonald's does such volume they pay a lot less. A nice restaurant selling those more expensive drinks does a lot less volume. So they pay more. and in the restaurant business margins like that matter. Upwards of 6.5 percent is a decent margin to lose.


> It seems incredible that people would want to use such a restrictive service when much more open ones exist, but the others routinely have their service degraded by the government so they aren't a viable option.

Do those other options actually exist within China? I thought they were blocked and that's why WeChat is dominate.


I remember at least one of the popular third party chat apps like Signal or Telegram made a big push to squeeze past the Great Firewall by hosting on AWS and being judicious with their traffic patterns. IIRC they even manged to get AWS shut out of China at times.


> I remember at least one of the popular third party chat apps like Signal or Telegram made a big push to squeeze past the Great Firewall by hosting on AWS and being judicious with their traffic patterns. IIRC they even manged to get AWS shut out of China at times.

I think you're talking about domain fronting (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domain_fronting). IIRC, Google, Amazon, and MS all blocked it because they were afraid of getting blocked. Though I also vaguely recall that Russia was blocking big blocks of AWS IPs for a time to try to stamp out Telegram.

I was in China recently, and Signal actually seemed to work on a local wifi network (with cellular data disabled), so maybe they've got some new circumvention technology in place. I didn't thoroughly try to test it since 99% of the time I just used data roaming on a foreign carrier to avoid the firewall.


The latest competitor WeChat kicked to ass is MSN China, guess it is blocked or not :-)


>It seems incredible that people would want to use such a restrictive service when much more open ones exist

I have neither a WeChat or Facebook account. I just don't see any real usecase for me and never missed it. But people are using it because it is usefull for them, even thou i can't see why people arent just using the alternatives that arent a murdochesque cancer in democracy.

People just dont care about the poltical implications of the technology they are using. People often just want it to work, because usually it doesn't.

And WeChat is really good software. Its better than almost everything i have ever seen before. From my insight it is completely out of league for facebook. WeChat compares to facebook like Genera to CP/M. A glimpse at it gave that "the future is right now feeling" like nothing within the last 10 years.


> It seems incredible that people would want to use such a restrictive service when much more open ones exist

people use it because: 1. If the conversation is not about criticizing gov in group chat or "moment" timeline, it's ok. Group chat/Timeline are not treated as public space, and talking bad in public is prohibited. 2. friends/family are on it and professional network is also on it. 3. store member cards are on it, you can order food and checkout in restaurants or online on it, you can send/receive money on it; using third party integrated services, you can book hotel, train, flight, pay utilities; you can even play games using the internal "tiny apps".

It brings so much good things, while you just need to keep silent about specific things. Privacy is still a relatively new concept to China, and the true freedom of speech is just so distant that the upper level doesn't seem to like it and you can't really oppose such overwhelming power. So why don't they just relax and use it.


> The combination of Wechat and making it effectively the only option through the Great Firewall is an amazing tool for shutting out foreign voices from Chinese social media.

That plus the language barrier also makes it a convenient way for WeChat users who immigrate to other countries to avoid integrating into overall society as well as discussing controversial matters like tax minimization strategies. I'd like to think my government has considered the latter and is doing something about it but I'm not too hopeful.


God forbid if I want to quit WeChat. The shit I get from my wife and relatives if I don't post anything, reply to something they posted or give them "red pockets" is absolutely ridiculous! It is probably the most successful social network app/money transfer app out there... and I don't like it. Maybe I'm turning into an old geezer or something...


I let my wife manage all our wechat posting, I’m responsible for all the Facebook posts. Sometimes it is hard to synchronize baby pics between the two.


If there was only a service that would allow sharing photos without WeChat or Facebook..

Its trivial to share photos using shared galleries in iCloud. Why Facebook is still considered valuable is beyond me. The last thing I want is photos of my kids on a Facebook type service.


The American relatives use Facebook, the Chinese relatives use wechat, it’s not like we go out and tell them to use Snapchat for this.

I’m not really worried about toddler pics on Facebook. Many people have complex conspiracy theories that they can be turned into CP or something, but they are all pretty impractical.


My objection to putting toddler pics on social media is that we ask friends and relatives if it's OK to post photos of them, but by the time a child is old enough to give informed consent it's too late.


>It is probably the most successful social network app/money transfer app out there

The gamification is intense.


I don't know who would like what you're describing


I call this diversity. And I don't feel you are a geezer at all.


My hope is that China demonstrates to the world how terribly this kind of digital-dystopia plays out, and serves as a cautionary tale for countries like England and companies like Google which are already (more slowly) heading in that direction.


> terribly this kind of digital-dystopia plays out

Yeah, but what if it works? What if technology and the laws of our physical universe really do allow efficient, permanent and total totalitarianism?


That question provokes a need for faith. Faith that whatever is emerging in this age represents a flavor of evolution with an appetite for the good, the beautiful, and the true.


I'd prefer that engineers and scientists made opinionated decisions to work on technology that sustains a free, egalitarian society than just blindly being a cog in whatever machine they work in, and allowing whatever happens to just happen.


Yeah, I mean me too. And I do. Every day.

But I also recognize that the universe is bigger than me, and I'm not so self-assured as to believe that its impact on me isn't as big or bigger than my impact on it.

I think that you can decline to work on bombs and torture and machine learning unto psychological manipulation, etc. but also at the same time have faith that the emergence of the internet is something natural whose essence is good and beautiful and true.


This comment is enraging. "Have faith that totalitarianism will work this time" - as if the 20th century didn't happen.


Did I say that? Or something that made you thought I meant that?

To be clear: I view government as a temporary necessary evil whose time is coming to a close in the coming decades or centuries.

I am not asking anybody to accept totalitarianism, nor to accept that repeating a failed experiment will suddenly, and for unspecified reasons, yield different results.

Resistance in the face of totalitarianism is an ongoing imperative; please don't think that I am unsympathetic.

Rather, I am just reporting that the way that I come to peace with the aspects of emergence of technology that are out of my control is to have faith that something incredible, natural, and evolutionary is occurring.


This is already the reality our food animals live in, so I think it's already pretty clear such a thing is possible.


That's exactly my worry.


Pssh - China just blocks stuff they don't like. Nice and simple. In the UK we've had stuff we don't like blocked, we've had mandatory tracking by your ISP, and now you have to register to watch porn...


Do you get arrested for sending videos of the Falklands or writing blogs critical of Winston Churchill?


Why would you get banned for sharing the good British stuff? Maybe use examples of the stuff Britain is ashamed of. I don’t know about the UK but in some parts of the US you won’t get tracked per se but you will be shunned if you’re: pro communist (during the red scare), anti war (during Vietnam), ???? (Today)


I had to install WeChat once on my phone for business reasons. From what I read of the Chinese government's control over it, I felt nervous that my phone was compromised by installing it.

You could say that Facebook is just as bad, but 1) I don't install Facebook and 2) I still trust the US Government more than the Chinese one.


I'm not sure if this is still the case but Google used to not even allow employees to bring their laptops to China. If a Googler had to go to China they would be issued a special laptop just for that trip. I have no idea what IT had to do to that laptop after the trip to make sure it was clean.

If I were going to China on business I'd have a separate cell phone just for that purpose. You can just swap sim cards if you need to keep the same number. Smartphones are so cheap nowadays you might as well have a burner for that purpose.


> If I were going to China on business I'd have a separate cell phone just for that purpose. You can just swap sim cards if you need to keep the same number. Smartphones are so cheap nowadays you might as well have a burner for that purpose.

A SIM card is an independent computer that runs a stripped-down version of Java. According to this comment (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17083221), the cell network can even upload programs to it to run.


Sim isn't a computer, it's just a secure data store. SIM cards predate java afaik.


There are UICC SIM card -- it is a java card emulating sim card.

for example: https://www.etsi.org/deliver/etsi_ts/131100_131199/131130/08...


> I have no idea what IT had to do to that laptop after the trip to make sure it was clean.

The most cost-effective solution? Put it into a blender.


I remember reading a similar article from NYT or WaPo on how executives of major companies had to use burner devices when travelling to China. That device was disposed off on return. The article pretty much implied that it was the status quo and how everyone does things when they need to travel to China.


If you go to China you need proper opsec, burner phone and laptop. Use nail polish on the laptop screws. Toss a little glitter on the case and take a photo of the pattern. Now you tell if someone tried anything while getting dinner.


I trust neither really, but I feel my data would be more useful to the US one.


> the messaging app that’s the equivalent of WhatsApp plus Facebook plus PayPal plus Uber plus GrubHub plus many other things.

It's unfortunate not much of their architecture is publicly shared or discussed. With their massive amount of users and incredibly diverse service offerings I'd love to see their backend architecture design choices/tradeoffs.


here is an article in english of wechats architecture https://blog.acolyer.org/2018/11/16/overload-control-for-sca...


Actually they shared a lot but vast majority of them in Chinese.


Could you link to some Chinese-language resources they published?


Just did a brief search and found a few links: https://www.infoq.cn/article/the-road-of-the-growth-weixin-b... https://cloud.tencent.com/developer/article/1005631

There seems more on cloud.tencent.com/developer.

And you can check their presentations on major per-field conferences like AI or big data or something.


Turnabout for an industry dominated by English.


Well, if you used the app, you'll see that these components are largely independent.

IMHO, architecture wise, they are not particularly interesting.


We're looking at their Tinker[1] open source library for hot patching Android apps. They seem to have quite a few other projects on Github.

[1] https://github.com/Tencent/tinker


>. With their massive amount of users and incredibly diverse service offerings I'd love to see their backend architecture design choices/tradeoffs.

Probably helps when the govt is footing at least part of the bill in order to access tons of data and information ;-)


Reminds me of some earlier article about a chinese daughter who pursued a "solitary life". With few chinese "social connections" it was tough for her to get things done for her aging father? mother?. That would seem to make for a strong driver for "digital connections" ala wechat.

Hate to break it to the author though: western companies aren't going to be the ones doing the digital liberation. It's not like that's what their doing here anyway.


I believe it was this NYT article about guanxi: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/23/opinion/international-wor...


Guanxi sounds like the "Old boy network."

And "Chabuduo" sounds similar to "Fail fast, fail often."


I'd like to respectfully provide some contrasting ideas regarding these two points.

1. Guanxi is related to one's network or clout, but there are several distinct differences between the chinese concept of Guanxi and the western notion of "old boy's network." Primarily, guanxi is more a locative phenomena--anyone can have Guanxi within your community and business--whereas idea of an "old boy's network" pertains to ones connections and access to society at large. Additionally, Guanxi isn't explicitly related to a subpopulation. Anyone can have guanxi in a specific community, not just men.

2. Chabuduo literally means "not a big difference." More abstractly, I see it as a thought process where "adequacy is enough." I do see the connection with fail fast, where one doesn't wait until perfection to ship. However chabuduo to me doesn't exemplify the pursuit of improvement that underlies "fail fast, fail often."


I mean it literally just means 'relationship.' It's just that networking is even more important in China where there are so many people competing for resources, where the bureaucracy and the systems are more corrupt, and where the culture values things like familial bonds and reciprocity more. It's part of survival there.

It's a concept everywhere, it's just that it's not nearly as necessary in much of the West. You can get by just fine. The distinction, imo, is that the "old boys network" is networking strictly among the rich and powerful.


I find it funny how many HN readers will insist that China (or really any Asian culture), is just so different that you you have to use “native” words to describe it. I guess your comment touched a nerve.

It’s like “face” is just respect, but sounds more “Asian-ish.”

Guanxi is just networking. Sometimes it’s important and sometimes it’s not. if you can speak the local language, you’ll need less of it. I’m know immigrants in the US will say how important it is to network with the right people.


Guanxi is most akin to karma. Good karma for treating other people well, bad karma for treating them poorly.


The WeChat MacOS client requires some ridiculous QR code dance to login every time I open it. That alone prevents me from using it over iMessage / FB messenger when communicating with my family.

The only time I use WeChat is if family members are in China where I assume they have banned FB messenger and iMessage.


That's basically 2-factor authentication. It's more secure than entering a password. WeChat was also built as a mobile-first app, the desktop experience was an afterthought.


2-factor authentication generally keeps you logged in, instead of forcing you to re-do the authentication every day.


I also find it a hassle. I wonder if they do it because they think it's better security? That a user will always have their cell phone, and logging in on a computer is more rare?


It's for app-lockin. Most people will not uninstall an app after installation. Moreover many new Internet users in China cannot even remember a password that's secure enough.


Afaik iMessage isn't banned.


This is because Apple gave the party the keys to the kingdom.


And then we have things like this, where in Canada, a Liberal Party candidate used WeChat to post a racist campaign message: https://globalnews.ca/news/4853439/karen-wang-liberal-burnab...

How can any journalists learn about this story without a WeChat account or without having some insider (local Chinese person) who has access to a WeChat account?

Multiple Internets are already here, and we've got to work at bridging them all over again.


Serious question:

We bitch and moan in the US about NSA-Google-FB-Amazon etc spying on private conversations/things we say outloud etc.

Why on EARTH would you want a Chinese WeChat account, assuming you had any privacy concerns in a country like the US?


You say we but there is no hivemind, just a bunch of bees, and some are less privacy conscious than others.


I have friends in a China and there is no other way to talk to them.

Also, I don’t live in China.


Funny that this article shows up today right after a big update (I think within the last few days) where the most basic message notification broke. Yep, it literally doesn't show any message notifications unless I manually open up the app. Kinda useless in this state. This is probably not affecting many people since I haven't see anybody complain about it.


I upgraded to v 7.0.0 a few weeks ago (when it first appeared), and WeChat runs 2 or 3 times slower on my old phone ever since. As for payments, sometimes it takes a few minutes to make a payment in a shop where I scan them. I'm starting to seek out larger shops where they scan me for payments because it's a lot quicker. I really don't want to buy a new phone because my old one still works for everything else. Sounds like WeChat/Huawei is the Chinese version of the old Microsoft/Intel duopoly.


Kind of funny.

WeChat is more taking over the world before ByteDance's phenomenal growth in the past 2 years.

Now to say it's taking the world appears to show that the author has no idea what's happening in China...


right they just released a clone of snapchat. Android client looks like a decompilation of snapchat app


According to Wikipedia, WeChat was first released in January 2011, while Snapchat only came out in September 2011. I conclude that Snapchat is more likely to be a clone of WeChat than the other way around.

Edit: To be clear, while I haven't used Snapchat, based on what I've heard about it I'd say that the two apps are nothing alike except for having some kind of chat functionality.



Thanks for the clarification. I read the "just" as "only" instead of "this week" and also thought it referred to WeChat instead of Bytedance's new Duoshan, which I totally hadn't heard of before.


I was in China, in the moment of activating WeChat when I put my phone down on my RFID passport. WeChat was the app which asked for Android permission to read the RFID tag.

I ceased installation and removed the app.


Just installed in on android. 90mb for a chat app. Really wonder what's inside. We have multiple apps with a whole lot more functionality. Never more than 20-30mb


Oh really? And do you have built-in microblogging platform? Do you have OCR with English-Chinese and Chinese-English translation? Do you have mobile payments? Do you have discover people feature (by location)? Can you identify movies by recording audio? Not only payments are possible, you can send money to anyone in WeChat. Sadly, some of these functionality are not available for non Chinese people (people without account in Chinese bank).


> Can you identify movies by recording audio?

Wait how can you do this? I've tried searching in English (can't write Chinese) to no avail.


I can read and write Chinese only partially, but that's not needed here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/bd61em3tieo8ry0/Screenshot_2019011...


Didn't know so much is inside . Thought it is the Chinese WhatsApp variant


Are you sure about the "whole lot more functionality" thing? I am not aware of any other app that combines chat with taxis, for example.


It's more like Chrome/Google play framework in China (and they are all blocked). Not surprising if you compare WeChat to a combination of GPay, GGame, GStore, etc.


241 MB on my pixel 3. Though FB messenger (comparable feature set) is also bloated at 126 MB. (Whatsapp, pure chat, by comparison is 47 MB)


You should try to inspect how many files they've stored on your SD card. I recently checked with my friend who says he barely use it and it was over 35.000.


There was a recent If Then episode that commented on how China’s declining demand of iPhones may be in part to how people there are agnostic to the hardware and more dependent on the software apps ran on the device (WeChat, Alipay, etc.).


WeChat utilitarian characteristics seem awesome, aside from it being a major commerce platform but I've heard of features that connect you to businesses, government, and other services that would be really helpful.


It's interesting and a bit scary to see how the reporter from NYT rendering WeChat, a daily used app developed by a HK IPO-ed tech giant, into a scary, wretched, government-controlled monitoring tool for restricting personal freedom.

Tell me, how can a social media like Signal and WhatsApp win in a country of billon population without even a single one local office? Just because it's encrypted? Come on!

How to say that? Either charlatan or simpleton.

Talk with some "real" Chinese ppl, guys, and learn about what is WeChat.


Prior to its acquisition by Facebook, WhatsApp gained significant market share in Europe, India, and Israel. The company is based in the US, and I don't think it had local offices in those areas before it was already popular there.

So it is not obvious, or even true that a chat app needs a local office to become popular in a given region. It may be true that a chat app needs a local office to become popular in China, but it's definitely possible to believe otherwise without being a "charlatan or simpleton".

As an aside, we don't talk to each other that way on Hacker News. Please do not insult people, and please explain why you think someone is wrong instead of claiming that it's obvious.


As X succeed in Europe, India, and Israel, then it's natural it should success in China.

Sorry, my fault, I thought recognizing the diversity of things is "obvious" in HN.


Does anyone here have a business presence on WeChat? If so, what has your experience been like?


Two of our Chinese partners conduct their entire business through a collection of groups all related to careers.

Since we are a foreign firm located in South Korea - they sell our services to their users on our behalf. Amazing how an entire company can be ran solely on wechat


That's terrifying. The IT section of their business continuity plan must be empty beyond "don't get kicked off WeChat"


That is how a premier western brand hotel we stayed at gets things done here in China.


Where by "the world" we of course mean "mainland China"

Edit: the title has been changed; it used to read "WeChat is taking over the world" or something


As someone not from the US, I can assure you the same mindset does appear on American websites about the US.


I thought american tech companies were used in most places outside of the US. From what seen facebook, google, amazon, etc are fairly global reaching at this point.


The globalized US tech companies / services / products.

YouTube, Netflix, Wikipedia, Uber, Google search, iOS & iPhone / watch / iPad, Mac, Android, Windows, Microsoft Office/365, Facebook core, FB Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram, Gmail & G services, Google Maps, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail / Outlook.com, Dropbox, Reddit, Imgur, Twitter, LinkedIn, Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Adobe / Photoshop, iTunes / Apple Music, Wordpress, Github, Stack Exchange, Steam, Airbnb, Priceline / Booking, Amazon.com, eBay, PayPal, AWS, Oracle, Salesforce, Akamai, Cloudflare, VMWare, Lets Encrypt, GoDaddy, Craigslist, Symantec, Red Hat, Activision, Electronic Arts, Autodesk, IBM, Intel, AMD, nVidia, Cisco, Broadcom, Qualcomm, Dell / EMC, HP, Western Digital, Lam Research, Applied Materials, Micron, Texas Instruments, Analog Devices

There are a bunch more that one could argue for, however that covers the bulk of them.


I'm specifically talking about the mindset of equating "it's happening in all America" to "it's happening to the whole world", and that's not only in tech.


Reddit it's pretty much unknown in Europe I'd you check statistics

Amazon it's also the last option i would be looking at when shopping for something online in Europe


Right, first place would be ebay.de, .fr, .it, .co.uk..


that's even less likely than amazon


You can't be serious, most of the world uses American websites in all kinds of market sectors.


Yup. Lists like, "The 100 Best Songs of All Time" = 100 American songs.


There's nothing wrong with that though, those kinds of statements are implied to be contextual.

If it's an American publication, it's fair.

The OP comment is not unreasonable - American's are fairly nationally centric by default ... but they generally don't say 'the world' when they mean just America.


i love "The best budget phones you can buy" *

* of course only in US, where you are limited by nonstandard LTE bands excluding 90% of phones available elsewhere


is there any other China? please don't promote CCP agenda by using this disgusting term


Article title is currently the slightly less hyperbolic: "To Cover China, There’s No Substitute for WeChat"


Yes, thanks! We've updated the headline from “WeChat taking over the world”.




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