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China: 360 VS. QQ: What about privacy and user rights?

An unintended consequence of a battle between instant messaging applications Tencent and Qihoo 360 has been increased awareness among Chinese internet users regarding averse effects of Tencent‘s industry monopoly and the significance of protection of user privacy and rights.

Although Tecent has a monopoly position in the Chinese Internet business market, its reputation continues to decline amid the controversy. Well-known writer and microblogger Zheng Yuanjie launched a poll on Sina‘s microblog platform about the battle. As of 10am on November 10, around 70% (10,218 votes) of replies support Qihoo 360, with 21% (3,021) of voters having chosen to support neither party.

Why are Chinese internet users supporting Qihoo 360 in this public relations fight?

Privacy and user rights

One description being used to promote the Sina microblog event which condemns Tencent QQ's strategy of forcing users to remove 360 software helps shed some light on public opinion. The event brief reads:

软件和电脑是我的私人财产,我有权选择如何使用!我们希望大家帮我一起呼吁给这个赚了我们钱,又要限制我们使用我们自己财产的商人!请各位留言并转发此活动链接。让更多的人一起参与呼吁正常使用我们私人财产!

Software and computer is my private property, I have the right to decide how to use them. I urge all of you to help me deliver this message to the businessmen who profit off us, but restrict our right to use our own property. Please leave a comment here and forward this link, let more people participate in this event to protect our private property.

QQ's market monopoly

Qihoo 360 CEO Zhou Hongwei also addresses the user rights issue on his Sina microblog:

以前,是君让臣死,臣不能不死。360不信邪,就要在夹缝中找出一条路来。3Q之争,本质上不是360和腾讯的斗争,而是互联网创新力量和垄断力量的斗 争,360在垄断力量挤压下找到一条生路,也是为其他互联网创业公司找生路。那就是,跟垄断力量斗争,绝对不能伤害用户利益,反而应该以增加用户利益为目 标。

In the past, if the emperor wanted his bureaucrats to die, they had to die. 360 does not believe in fate and wants to find an exit. The battle between 360 and QQ is a battle between innovation in the Internet industry and monopoly forces. 360 has found an exit under the existing monopoly and paved the way for other Internet companies. The struggle against monopolies should not harm user rights, rather our objective should be to strengthen user rights.

Founder of BlogCN Fang Xindong also comments:

QQ和360事件,应该站在产业和用户利益的高度,给予相应的处理。我个人认为,假如给360打一个板子,那么给腾讯起码要打十个板子。主要理由在 于:360主要是对腾讯利益有损害,而腾讯举措给数亿用户造成了损害。腾讯以用户为弹药,是基于其垄断地位的自信,没有绝对的垄断,没有公司敢于作出这样 的举措。

We should address the QQ vs. 360 incident from the perspective of the user rights and ecology of the industry. My personal opinion is that if we are to slap 360 once, we have to slap Tecent ten times. The reason is that while 360 has harmed Tencent's interests, Tencent's response has harmed millions of users. Tencent uses their customers as their ammunition because the company is so confident given its monopoly status. If they didn't have this absolute monopoly, they wouldn't dare to do such a thing.

Timeline of the battle

For those who have missed what has transpired in the battle between QQ and 360, Jason Ng at Kenengba has reconstructed a timeline:

January 25, 2010: Tecent launches “QQ doctor” in second and third level cities. The antivirus and system protection functions offered by “QQ doctor” resembled those of Qihoo 360.

May 26, 2010: A blogger writes in his blog that the QQ application is scanning users’ hard drives and accessing their private data.

May 31, 2010: QQ upgrades “QQ doctor” to version 4.0 and changes the name of the software to “QQ computer housekeeper”. Its functions increasingly resemble those of ‘360 security guard’.

July 24, 2010: Computer World magazine publishes the front page story “Bastard Tencent” (see the cover image below). The article criticizes Tencent of stealing other people's innovations and murdering startup businesses. It claims that Tencent is the common enemy of Chinese internet users.

September 22, 2010: QQ users find that their “QQ doctor” and “QQ housekeeper” have been automatically upgraded without any notice.

September 27, 2010: 360 launches its privacy protection software. It openly states that QQ has violated users’ privacy by automatically scanning their hard drives.

October 29, 2010: 360 launches “KouKou Bodyguard”. It removes certain QQ applications and protects QQ users’ privacy.

November 1, 2010: A truce in the battle as both parties bring the case to court. Tencent claims that 360's KouKou Bodyguard is an illegal application while 360 contends that QQ has invaded users’ privacy.

November 3, 2010: Tencent issues an official statement demanding that users remove all 360 software and browsers, or face being unable to run QQ on their computers. The action enrages many QQ users and 360 condemns Tencent for violating user rights. 360 launches a web-based QQ client so that QQ users will not have to remove 360. That website is immediately blocked by the Tencent browser. The same day, 360 withdraws its KouKou Bodyguard and urges users to boycott QQ for three days. Tencent proposes a resolution by demanding 360 cease running the privacy protection program and apologize.

While it seems that QQ has the upper hand in the battle, well-known tech blogger William Long points out that as technology continues to advance, QQ may stand to lose its market:

作为即时通讯只有在适合的人之间建立起来才算是合理。假设我们500多个QQ好友都在MSN,为什么还有留在QQ呢?我是个淘宝卖家,我的买家、顾客同行都在旺旺,我也没必要再开个QQ吗?而当我们处于一个情景的时候我们真的需要即时通讯,而且即时通讯既可以让我只使用一个账号来登录,同时也可以保护我 自身信息的隐蔽,让我在多种身份间切换。如果可以满足这些需求,起码理论上可以让我们抛弃对QQ的依赖。
  将来,各种电子产品的工作效率大幅提升后,一个浏览器内就应该能承载所用的功能,而智能的匹配也可以帮我们找到我们需要的人,并且屏蔽掉不需要的信息。那时,通讯只是众多互联网功能的一种,那我们还需要QQ这样客户端吗?

Instant messaging applications only makes sense when they are used among the same social circle of friends. Imagine if we had 500 QQ friends on MSN Messenger, why would we need to keep QQ? If I am a seller at Taobao and all my customers are on their Wangwang network, I don't need another QQ account. If we have a set instant messaging tool that allows us to login with one account, while at the same time protects our privacy and keeps our footprint anonymous, we can stop depending on QQ.

In the future, as our computer applications continue to become more and more efficient, we will be able to utilize all functions in just one browser and artificial intelligence will help us find the people we need to find and block the information we don't. Communication is just one of many Internet functions. When the time arrives, will we even still need QQ clients?

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