WeChat users accuse app of tracking conversations for advertising purposes

By Zhang Han Source:Global Times Published: 2019/3/28 17:31:55

A man is talking on WeChat in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province. Photo: IC



Tencent's social media platform WeChat is in hot water after users found precisely placed advertisements on their accounts, accusing the app of spying on them for advertisers.  

Such accusations came in a wave after a Southern Metropolis Daily report that two newly registered WeChat accounts, received advertisements for tours to Japan and Japanese cosmetics after they exchanged chats about holidays to Hokkaido, Japan.

Many netizens shared their experience of receiving such precisely placed advertisements and accused WeChat of abusing users' private conversations. 

"The app has never surveilled users' conversations for advertising purposes," a Tencent spokesperson told the Global Times on condition of anonymity on Thursday. "As we have always promised, users have a right to their privacy." 

He explained that advertisers select a large number of users for their target group, which means some people in the group will find advertisements that match their chat and search history merely "by coincidence."

Zhao, a 26-year-old Beijing resident, was not convinced by WeChat's explanation. "I discussed the safety of Audi's interior materials and received the brand's advertisement in my WeChat moments the following day," Zhao told the Global Times. 

While she usually receives promotions for cosmetics and fashion brands, Zhao wondered "why the car advertisement appeared immediately after I chatted with my parents" about cars.  

"The targeting is not difficult in terms of technology, but as far as I know it's not likely that WeChat is surveilling users to place advertisements," an internet industry insider surnamed Yang, who  worked as an advertisement platform developer, told the Global Times.

The car advertisement could be sent after the user shared a relevant news article to WeChat friends, Yang said.  

A news portal may have detected that a user has read an article about a car brand and then sold the information to advertising platforms. After collecting a huge amount of data, the platform would then place advertisements on a variety of apps installed on targeted groups' devices, said Yang.  

Several Chinese food-delivery apps were also reported to eavesdrop on users' real-time conversations and then recommending restaurants accordingly.



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