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Tencent Blames WeChat Access for Search Engines on Loophole

·2-min read

(Bloomberg) -- Tencent Holdings Ltd. said loopholes created during a recent tech upgrade made some content on its enclosed WeChat ecosystem available on search engines.

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While the company said the vulnerability had already been fixed, searches performed on Friday afternoon using Google, which is blocked in mainland China, and Microsoft Corp.’s Bing were still able to locate social media articles from WeChat. Articles on the super-app had previously only been discoverable through its native search function or on smaller engine Sogou, controlled by Tencent, and they remain unavailable on the country’s search leader Baidu Inc.

“Due to a recent tech upgrade on the platform, loopholes were created in the protocols for public accounts on WeChat and that allowed external crawlers to access some of the content,” Tencent sad in a statement Friday.

A Baidu representative confirmed that its search engine still couldn’t access WeChat content, while representatives for Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Microsoft didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The appearance of WeChat content on major search engines fueled speculation that Beijing had landed another victory in its efforts to eradicate online barriers. China’s tech-industry overseer is considering asking media companies including Tencent and ByteDance Ltd. to let rivals access their content in search results, Bloomberg News reported Monday.

The regulators’ deliberations currently center on WeChat’s public accounts, which let individuals and businesses publish articles on everything from films to football and foreign policy. That massive content library is blocked from search engines operated by the likes of Baidu and ByteDance and any liberalization would have shaken up the internet advertising arena.

Beijing has declared war on the so-called walled gardens of China’s internet, part of a campaign to reign in big tech. It accuses a handful of companies of unreasonably blocking rivals to protect their respective spheres: Tencent in social media via WeChat, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. in e-commerce with Taobao and Tmall and, more recently, ByteDance in video and news via Douyin and Toutiao.

The country’s online giants have taken steps to lower some of those barriers. In September, Tencent allowed WeChat users to link to external services from rivals such as Alibaba, and the e-commerce giant later that month added WeChat’s payment system to some of its apps.

(Updates with Tencent’s statement starting from first paragraph.)

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