Tencent targeted for ‘public interest litigation’ by Beijing procuratorate over alleged WeChat violations
- Haidian District People’s Procuratorate says it has found that the youth mode of WeChat has certain violations, hurting the ‘legal interests of minors’
- This is the first time that a Chinese procuratorate has targeted a Big Tech firm in this way and could mark a serious legal threat to Tencent
A local procuratorate in Beijing has initiated a public interest lawsuit against Tencent Holdings, alleging that the youth mode of its massively popular WeChat social media platform fails to comply with China’s minor protection laws, marking the first time this kind of legal threat has been made against a Chinese social and gaming giant.
According to a statement released by the Haidian District People’s Procuratorate on Friday, it has found that the youth mode of WeChat has certain violations, hurting the “legal interests of minors” which merits public interest litigation.
In a form of group lawsuit, the procuratorate is now inviting all institutions and social organisations to file their complaints in written form in the next 30 days.
This is the first time that a Chinese procuratorate has targeted a Big Tech firm in this way and a loss in such a civil public interest lawsuit could lead to hefty fines and compensation. Public interest litigation can be settled before going to court. To date, China’s public interest litigation – which began in 2017 – has been mainly about environmental pollution and food security.
Tencent said in a statement late on Friday that it would conduct self-checks into the youth mode of WeChat and deal with the public interest litigation sincerely.
“This case is in line with the big trend [in China] to rein in [the disorderly expansion] of capital,” said Dong Yizhi, a lawyer at Shanghai-based Joint-Win Partners. Dong said there will be no penalty as it is not an administrative case but may result in the parties and social organisations that filed the case receiving compensation.
Tencent recently stopped new user registrations for its WeChat service in China for a technical upgrade to comply with laws and regulations, opening up again just this week.
WeChat, known as Weixin in China, has about 1.26 billion monthly active users, and every mobile phone user in China has a WeChat account for services such as chat, sharing interests, video sharing and payments.
Authors: Zhou Xin and Jane Zhang, SCMP