Chinese web giant Tencent has denied claims that there is global censoring of its popular chat app WeChat.
It said a technical glitch had led to certain sensitive terms being blocked outside China.
Tech blogs Tech in Asia and The Next Web both reported receiving messages saying their chat entries contained “restricted words”.
The Next Web tried to write the words “Falun Gong”, a group banned in China, and Tech in Asia attempted to send “Southern Weekend”, the name of a newspaper in the south of the country that is at the moment the subject of a controversy surrounding censorship.
The blogs said their entries were blocked.
The Chinese government is known to closely monitor internet traffic within China, and all web content that crosses the state’s borders.
Chinese web giant Tencent has denied claims that there is global censoring of its popular chat app WeChat
China’s Great Firewall prevents a number of Western companies such as YouTube, Google+, Twitter, Dropbox, Facebook and Foursquare from operating inside the country. The authorities also demand self-policing from local websites.
When approached by Tech in Asia, Tencent issued a statement, saying: “A small number of WeChat international users were not able to send certain messages due to a technical glitch [last] Thursday.
“Immediate actions have been taken to rectify it. We apologize for any inconvenience it has caused to our users.
“We will continue to improve the product features and technological support to provide better user experience.”
But Tom Rafferty of the Economist Intelligence Unit said the issue was unlikely to be just “a passing glitch”, and said that such practices could pose technical and political challenges to Tencent because international users were accustomed to sharing information freely.
“The latest incident… is representative of the <<growing pains>> that China’s internet and social media companies are likely to experience as they expand globally,” he said.
“The servers of such companies are typically based in China, which means the traffic they process will always potentially be vulnerable to monitoring.
“It goes against the grain of domestic censorship regulations, which show no clear signs of being loosened.
“Domestic users, many of whom already baulk at the level of censorship imposed on them, would react unfavorably if Tencent were to offer unfiltered content to overseas users.”
According to Tencent, whose services include instant messaging service QQ, microblogging site Tencent Weibo – which is similar to Twitter – and online games, WeChat has close to 300 million users.
That makes it one of the world’s biggest messaging apps.
Best Buy, the largest U.S. specialty electronics retailer, has alerted some customers that it will not be able to fill their online orders, just days before Christmas.
Best Buy said late Wednesday that “overwhelming demand for some products from Bestbuy.com has led to a problem redeeming online orders made in November and December”.
Meanwhile, the iconic upscale New York department store Barneys said a number of its online orders were canceled because of technical glitch.
Neither Best Buy nor Barneys are saying exactly how many customers were affected.
The shortages are a black eye for Best Buy, which has beefed up its online campaign to fight off intense competition from online retailers and discount stores. And the holiday season is crucial for retailers like Best Buy because it can make up to 40% of annual sales.
Some glitches should not be a surprise with such a massive surge in online shopping this year, analysts said, but there is a risk of a backlash.
“It is a hiccup for the company,” said Morningstar analyst R.J. Hottovy.
“They were kind of behind the curve building out their online channel. They’ve done a good job investing in it, but if you make a lot of rapid changes, inevitably there are going to be growing pains.”
“The canceled orders probably won’t make a big difference for Best Buy’s holiday sales this year, but it may lead to more customers looking elsewhere in the future,” he said.
“The risk is any consumers affected by canceled orders will be willing to explore other alternatives for online shopping in years to come,” R.J. Hottovy said.
Online sales are up 15% to $32 billion so far this holiday season, while total sales are up just 2.5%.
Even though online sales are a huge boon for retailer, the shift has already created some problems.
Discount retailer Target Corp’s site crashed in September because of overwhelming demand for Missoni for Target, a limited designer line of clothing, home goods and accessories.
Best Buy benefitted when its now-defunct rival Circuit City went out of business more than a year ago, but its suffering as Americans hold off on big ticket items and search for deals online and at discounters.
In order to compete, Best Buy has expanded its online offerings, cut back on square footage in the U.S. by closing stores and sought to expand internationally. In its most recent third quarter ending November 26, Best Buy said its net income fell 29% as it cut prices in popular categories such as tablets and TVs to drive sales and traffic during the holiday season.
Best Buy shares rose 8 cents to $22.96 in midday trading.
Barneys sent out e-mails to some customers with the following message:
“This technical issue posed a significant challenge for our IT department and in turn caused some lengthy delays in responding to both order requests and emails and so I apologize as well for the lateness of this reply… but nonetheless your order was canceled as we no longer have the inventory to fulfill it.”