China's largest instant messaging service provider, Tencent, apologised yesterday for hurting users' feelings by forcing them to choose between its service and Qihoo 360. However, the company denied its software, QQ, had breached users' privacy and vowed to take further legal action against 'an unnamed company' which falsely accused it of prying into its users' computers. Li Yizhong , minister of Industry and Information Technology, criticised both companies' recent actions as 'immoral' and 'irresponsible', according to a report by the China Daily. He said corporations should always take care of their ordinary consumers. Tencent told users to uninstall a plug-in application of Qihoo's antivirus software 360 Safeguard from their computers last week or their QQ services would be suspended. Tencent chairman Ma Huateng said yesterday that the company was caught between a rock and a hard place. 'We admitted Tencent had not fully protected users' benefits ... but to let the situation develop on its own risked leaking an enormous amount of user data to 360, and the result would be unthinkable. We could only choose between bad and not as bad,' Ma said. 'Time was so pressing we had to focus on working out the technical remedy, and we didn't communicate well with users and consider their perspectives. But in hindsight, I still can't think of any alternative way to handle the situation.' Tencent quoted a diagnosis by 360 Safeguard's competitor Rising in claiming that its plug-in application, Koukou Bodyguard, hijacked QQ software and opened security loopholes in users' computers. Ma said it meant QQ's user database could be siphoned by Qihoo. Qihoo disputed that report, saying Rising's findings had smeared 360 Safeguard. Qihoo earlier accused QQ of scanning users' private files. But Tencent president Martin Lau said QQ only checked against executable applications in users' computers, not data files. It also only transmitted information about computer viruses to the company, so it was not a breach of privacy. Tencent, which has more than 600 million users, also denied an accusation the company had abused its leading market position. Ma said the company had contacted the state's anti-trust investigator and explained its views. Lau said he was confident there would be no anti-trust probe case initiated against the company, as it had never used its market position to bully competitors. Last week a local consumer rights activist filed an anti-monopoly complaint to the State Administration for Industry and Commerce against Tencent, accusing the company of abusing its 80 per cent share of China's instant messaging market. Ma said those installing 360's plug-in had fallen from a peak of over 20 million last week to about five million, who would remain suspended from QQ service. Lau said the impact on user loyalty to QQ was still unclear and the company was assessing the damage. Tencent said an unnamed company had misled QQ users and seriously damaged QQ's reputation. Lau said the company was seeking legal advice and would take action. Ma suggested the government improve regulations concerning computer security software.