For decades, Western companies have dominated many industries such as the app development market. Due to the the largely segregated nature of Chinese Internet (see Great Firewall of China), Internet users in the country are blocked from using the many sites that we rely on heavily for digital consumption including Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter… the list goes on.
Chinese companies, known for creating cheap counterfeits of any product they can find, stayed true to the stereotype and produced their own versions of popular apps, which have now become bona fide tech giants in their own right. They have developed integration and features that Western companies are now scrambling to recreate.
What started out as fakes became powerhouses that may very well pioneer the future of apps in the long run.
A New York Times video called WeChat a super app, and rightly so. It’s the Western equivalent of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Amazon, and more rolled up into a single package. This means that you never have to leave the app to access any of these services. What makes WeChat so powerful isn’t so much as how many services it offers, but the way in which anything can become viral, and not just cat videos and GIFs. With WeChat, the number of possibilities extends infinitely. Restaurants, service providers, and even another Internet user can go viral simply through the rapid sharing of information.
It was the decision to introduce mobile payments in 2013 that really got the ball rolling for WeChat. At this time, it’s users began to use it for everything from ordering a taxi to sending micro payments to friends. Soon, they would be using the app to pay their bills, purchase travel tickets, book a hospital visit, invest money, order a meal, without ever leaving the app.
WeChat’s success can be partially credited to its parent company, Tencent, according to an article which states:
“Particular preferences, like robust mobile payments, the ability to book tickets on the nation’s high speed rail system or pay your electricity bill – and lots more – would have been a nightmare for a foreign firm to set up. But it was easy for Tencent, which has been China’s social media giant since the start of the century.”
Already, Tencent has surpassed Wells Fargo to enter the ranks of the top 10 richest tech companies in the world, including Google’s parent company Alphabet, Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon.
So how does this affect Western app developers?
In many aspects, and ironically, Western companies are looking to replicate super apps like WeChat. While we cannot fully determine what it would mean if western companies could spit out the same results as their eastern counterpart, we can take a guess by looking at China’s situation.
But how would this impact the companies, their users, and the e-commerce environment as a whole? While we cannot fully determine what it would mean if Western companies could replicate similar results, we can take a guess by looking at China’s situation.
Hoarding Collecting Data
Like we mentioned previously, WeChat encompasses the many aspects of Western social media platforms, while keeping all of it in one place. While this is a great chance for the market to grow, it also provides companies with an insurmountable of data and information on your personal, work and private life. They know where you go, your tendencies, what you buy, who you hang out with, and even how long you’re on media platforms.
While this is a dream for advertisers, this information is also shared with the Chinese government who, for better or for worse, are able to regulate what advertisers can do with it.
This is not the case in the West. While specifics differ from country to country, U.S. companies are under no obligation to share this data with the government, or any other regulatory body, unless specifically requested.
With this in mind, the idea of one company, any company, having this much information about you (essentially all the combined data that exists of you) starts to look less rosy.
WeChat is great and really revolutionizes the way app developers are looking at their platforms. Already, there are attempts from the likes of Facebook and WhatsApp to recreate these features within their own products.
At the same time, the amount of valuable data given to these companies is a cause for concern. Will an app with WeChat’s features even come to Western society? And if so, how will it be received? When can we expect this? Will the collection of data be regulated in any way?
These are questions that we should all consider to determine to what extent we are comfortable with the idea of our information being collected and kept in perpetuity, despite the obvious and significant convenience that could be afforded to us in return.