WeChat tightened privacy controls on third-party apps this week, restricting rights to collect sensitive personal information to a smaller group of developers and requiring them to explain what personal information they are collecting and how. Under the new privacy controls, information can only be gathered on a need-to-know basis for mini programs, which run within the WeChat platform. Developers must include information about the types of personal data they are collecting and how they are doing so in the app’s back-end data, WeChat’s legal team said in a statement on its official account. “Protecting the privacy of users has always been our bottom line,” WeChat said in the statement. “We hope to work with all service providers to bring users a safe and good experience.” The ubiquitous do-everything app operated by Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings said the move was in response to some mini programs that have violated its user privacy regulations “in the name of epidemic prevention and control”. Since the start of 2020, WeChat has intercepted 3,252 attempts to collect users’ personal information by 2,392 mini programs, it said. WeChat also highlighted threats caused by links from third-party apps, using links from rival Alibaba Group Holding ’s workplace app DingTalk’s Health Code in a screenshot showing how third-party apps could access users’ contacts. Tencent’s WeChat blocks ByteDance app as China’s telecommuting war heats up These links violate WeChat’s rules and “could leak private information without the user's knowledge”, WeChat said, adding that it has banned these links from opening directly within the platform, and users have to copy and paste them in their browsers to open them instead. DingTalk users previously reported that links from Health Code, a system that indicates users’ health status amid the coronavirus outbreak, were blocked on WeChat. However, access to the links has been restored as the service currently complies with the rules, WeChat said in the statement. WeChat also said in the statement that it had banned external links from Tencent’s own services including social media app Friends, Tencent News and WeChat Reading, which “entice users to download applications” while accessing user contacts. Tencent and Alibaba – the parent company of the Post – did not immediately respond to requests for comment. WeChat, which has over 1.1 billion active users, has been accused of using its market dominance to stifle competition, especially in the hotly-contested field of workplace collaboration services as many companies in China have moved their office operations online to limit the spread of coronavirus infections. At stake is the enterprise collaboration industry in China forecast to achieve a compound annual growth rate of 12.4 per cent over five years to reach nearly 49 billion yuan (US$7 billion) by 2024, according to the Qianzhan Industry Research Institute. Feishu, the Chinese version of ByteDance's productivity tool Lark, said on Saturday that users could not open any of its links on WeChat , nor could they share name cards to invite colleagues. Without advance notice of the ban, the move “significantly affected work efficiency and user experience”, ByteDance said. A dominant social media tool, WeChat has become such an indispensable online platform that even competing internet companies use it to reach and sign up potential new subscribers. The app has been accused of using its position to target rivals before. In April last year, a Chinese lawyer sued Tencent under the country’s anti-monopoly law, charging that the company’s actions infringed on his rights as a user by blocking direct sharing from services like Alibaba’s Taobao and ByteDance’s Douyin. In 2018, ByteDance also sued Tencent for anticompetitive behaviour, claiming that Tencent’s social platform QQ zone and its software Guanjia blocked links from ByteDance’s news platform, Toutiao. On the other hand, link sharing for JD.com and Pinduoduo pages – online retail marketplaces in which Tencent owns a financial stake – has not been blocked so far. Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A. Offer valid until 31 March 2020.