WeChat, Microsoft trade fire over 'killing' of chatbot amid privacy, foul language concerns
China’s popular mobile messaging application WeChat has extensively removed many artificially intelligent “chatbots” throughout its platform, just three days after Microsoft registered them as users as part of its testing phase for the project.
The chatbots, named Xiaobing a common nickname for young girls in Chinese, is the latest Microsoft product to tap into China’s growing smartphone and social media user base.
Similar to smartphone intelligent “personal assistants” like Apple iPhone’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortina, the bot can simulate conversations with WeChat users based on pre-stored data. It also has access to Microsoft’s search engine Bing to answer questions from users.
Microsoft released 100,000 of these bots on WeChat, which appear as individual user profiles with the same username and profile picture. WeChat users can follow and start conversation with a Xiaobing bot, which responds to text as well as audio.
“Within two hours, many chatbots’ accounts belonging to various chat groups were suddenly removed without prior notice,” said a statement issued by Microsoft’s Asia-Pacific Research and Development Group on Sunday.
WeChat quickly fired back, saying the chatbots were found "violating the platform’s regulations and harming the user experience".
It said via a statement that “the bots are potentially threats to users’ privacy and could leak their chat history”. It also published screen grabs that showed the bots responding in lewd language during conversations with users.
The two companies are currently in talks over the issue, according to Chinese media reports.
The chatbot application’s launch last Thursday generated considerable buzz due to the involvement in its development of Chinese internet celebrity Zhang Zetian, an intern at Microsoft in the US.
She has found herself in the media spotlight recently after it was revealed she was in a relationship with Liu Qiangdong, the boss of JD.com, China’s second largest online retailer just after Alibaba. The company raised $1.8 billion (HK$13.9 billion) after its US IPO just over a week ago.