Alipay app’s monetised social networking function sparks moral debate as racy material appears
Alipay’s new social networking function within its app may be working to monetise young users in China by getting them to spend more on the electronic payment platform, but has sparked moral debates about spending through social networks and how to make friends online.
Alipay, owned by Ant Financial Services, an affiliate of Alibaba Group, on Thursday began trials of its new social networking feature Quanzi, or “social circles”. The service allows users to create and operate different social circles using real names covering topics such as sports, reading, social networking and financing. Alibaba owns the Post.
One function of Quanzi is aimed at attracting more transactions through Alipay. Only users with high credit scores based on the Alipay payment system can comment and communicate with others in certain Quanzi groups.
The new social networking feature has proven an overnight hit on the mainland among millions of young Alipay users. Quanzi groups covering three specific types of female users – college students, white-collar workers and women living overseas – quickly became popular. Users can upload private photos and post threads in the groups, while other users can only click the “like” button or reward the women with digital cash, according to mainland media.
Comments and communication with photo uploaders on the groups are restricted to users who have at least 750 “sesame credits”.
Early last year, Ant Financial introduced its credit-scoring service, Sesame Credit, which leverages “big data” technology and customer behaviour analytics to help make credit more available to millions of consumers across China.
Sesame Credit is able to collect data from more than 300 million real-name registered users and 37 million small businesses that buy and sell on Alibaba Group marketplaces including Taobao Marketplace and Tmall.com. Payment histories are also available from Alipay.
However, the public has raised moral concerns about Alipay’s move as many young female users are uploading sexy photos to entice male users to part with their digital cash, according to the government-run Nanfang Daily.
Some Alipay users also say the feature is creating discrimination by ranking users according to their credit scores.
“Does it mean only those men with credit scores of 750 or higher have the right to flirt with women on Quanzi? The feature might be creative but it’s absolutely unfair,” said He Yu, a Shenzhen-based internet user.
An Ant Financial spokeswoman said Quanzi is an open platform used to head and operate different social circles, but added it would take measures to filter and delete malicious information in time.
Early this year, Tencent’s WeChat, China’s favourite mobile messaging tool, tried to launch a new function for its China-based users. The application allowed users to upload private photos that are automatically blurred, thus enticing others in their social circle to send them “red envelopes”, a form of digital money, in order to view the pictures clearly.
The trial was stopped after just a few hours owing to public concerns about the spread of racy material.