An official at China’s National Development and Reform Commission apparently created a storm this week after publicly endorsing information technology giant Tencent for charging a fee for its currently free App - Wechat.
Wechat is an instant text and voice messaging application developed by Tencent that runs on multiple platforms including Android and IOS. The most popular instant messaging App in China, Wechat has attracted hundreds of millions of mobile phone users at home.
Shi Wei, a director at the commission’s Institute of Economic System and Management, made the following controversial comments during an interview with Xinhua :
“If Wechat doesn’t charge a fee, then why do text messages charge a fee? This is basic economics. If text messages charge a fee, then so should Wechat.”
His comment quickly went viral on China’s social media, where netizens expressed their own views with vigour:
“If Wechat is free, then text messages should also be free,” wrote one blogger.
“If the post office charges a fee, then emails should also charge a fee,” wrote another blogger in an ironic tone. “If films charge a fee, then all TV channels should also charge a fee.”
Many others argued that since users do pay for data used by mobile Apps including Wechat, it’s a fair play.
“I will give up the App the minute it starts charging me money,” said another user.
Many speculated that Wechat's growing popularity has offended state mobile service providers such as China Mobile and China Unicom, which reaped huge profits by selling a traditional text message service in the past.
Despite rumours, Tecent has recently denied it plans to introduce fees for its Wechat users.