Lessons From China on the Coronavirus and the Dangers of App Consolidation
Ostensibly a chat app, WeChat is actually a superapp, because it seamlessly integrates many services and products. It is the way the vast majority of Chinese citizens communicate with friends and family. For some, it is a medical scheduling app, used to make and manage doctor’s appointments. And it is a wallet, the means by which users buy groceries, access their bank accounts, pay their mortgages, and engage in just about any financial transaction.
Shutting down a WeChat account is, in effect, a digital form of banishment for the many users who have opted into its ecosystem. Not only is the user cut off from communicating with friends and family, but in what is increasingly becoming a cashless society, it effectively denies users who have concentrated their money in WeChat Wallet the ability to independently function.
U.S.-based tech companies often deal with these and other wide-ranging country and regional-specific speech restrictions via something known as geo-blocking, which enables them to restrict in one region content that is otherwise permitted by the terms of service and thus accessible elsewhere. Implicit in this approach is a recognition of the obligation to comply with local law, even if it means complying with takedown and keep-off demands that run contrary to free speech commitments elsewhere.