China’s top metaverse app removes itself from app stores, citing online attacks

  • Jelly, which became China’s most popular free iOS app three weeks after launch, says it has been experiencing malicious rumours and system crashes
  • Some users claim they have run into data leaks after signing up for the app – allegations that Jelly has denied

A metaverse app that topped the download charts in Chinese app stores last week said it has taken itself off the shelves because of online attacks and the need to improve user experiences.

In a statement posted on its official Weibo account, Jelly – a social app built around the metaverse concept – said it suffered from “continuous and organised attacks in recent days”, including malicious rumours circulating on various online platforms, as well as a spate of bad reviews in its app store listings.

The app said it needs to suspend the registration of new users, and undergo a “large-scale system upgrade” after spotting problems, including system crashes and spotty or delayed connections.

Jelly, which became a hit in China soon after its launch, underscores the potential of a consumer-based metaverse in the country. The app jumped to the top of the iOS free app rankings in China last Wednesday – just three weeks after it was officially released – rendering it the first social networking app to overtake Tencent Holdings’ ubiquitous WeChat since 2019.

Jelly, which was developed by Beijing-based mobile news aggregator Yidian Shuyu, lets users share snippets of their daily lives using images of their avatars, according to the app’s official introduction. Each user can connect with no more than 50 people.

“There are no groups, no user blocking, and no function to make updates only viewable for three days,” said Yidian Shuyu, referring to some of WeChat’s most iconic features.

Amid rising popularity, however, Jelly also became mired in controversies.

Some users claimed they received spam messages and calls from third parties after registering accounts on the app. Others accused Jelly of copying outfits of Chinese celebrities and international brands in designing the clothes of the app’s avatars.

Jelly denied accusations of personal data leaks last week, calling them “an organised and planned smear campaign by competitors”. In a Sunday article in state-backed media National Business Daily, Jelly pushed back on the plagiarism accusations, but added that it would strengthen its internal review system. Some users said that the outfits in question were later taken down.

Yidian Shuyu did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Britney Chen, a 20-year-old student, said she has been experiencing serious lags when trying to display outfits on Jelly – an issue that two of her 14 friends on the app also ran into.

Another 16-year-old user, who goes by the handle Qianbao and said she likes the app because it has fewer paid functions and more fashionable outfits, said that some of her friends have deleted the app or closed their accounts for fear of data leaks.

Jelly faces an uphill battle to maintain its popularity in a market dominated by Tencent and other Big Tech companies, according to Zhang Shule, an independent analyst covering China’s internet and information technology industry.

“If [Jelly] only relies on concepts rather than innovative social experiences, it will soon head into winter once the novelty wears off,” said Zhang.

While the metaverse concept has started to go mainstream, supporting technologies are still lacking, according to Jiang Han, a senior researcher at Chinese think tank Pangoal.

“It is currently at the conceptual level because virtual reality and internet technologies aren’t robust enough to support a system that can replace people’s offline lives,” said Jiang.

Author: Ann Cao, SCMP

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