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What is WeChat? All about the messaging app

WeChat is one of the most commonly-used messaging platforms worldwide. Here’s everything you need to know about the app. 

Keep reading to discover everything you need to know about WeChat, including what it is, what features are available, how secure it is and whether the app is available to download in the UK. 

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What is WeChat? 

WeChat (also known as Weixin in China) is a Chinese instant messaging app, social media platform and mobile payment service developed by Shenzhen-based tech company Tencent. As of March 2023, the app is the fifth most popular social media app worldwide, boasting more than 1.3 billion monthly active users (via Statista). 

Tencent describes WeChat as “a free chat app for smartphones that offers free video and voice calls, videos, photos, games, stickers, and text messages to help you stay connected with the people who matter to you most”. 

WeChat

While WeChat began as a messaging app comparable to WhatsApp, the app has since developed into a fully-fledged social media platform with features like Moments allowing users to post images and videos similar to the Stories feature on Snapchat and Instagram. 

There are also lots of third-party “Mini Programs” baked into WeChat that allow users to book flights, hail taxis, buy movie tickets, order food, see reviews for local restaurants, top-up their phone and compete in mini-games, to name just a few features. 

Is WeChat safe?

One major difference between WeChat and other popular messaging apps like Signal or Telegram is that WeChat includes no form of encryption. This means it’s possible for Tencent and third parties to intercept your messages if they so choose to, making the app significantly less secure than many of its rivals. 

The app has also faced criticism for censorship in recent years.

“Like all services in China, [WeChat] is under constant government surveillance”, wrote NordVPN in a blog post in 2020. “Pictures, comments, and blog posts are subject to heavy censorship, with undesirable opinions disappearing quickly from the platform.

“While WeChat only censors users with phone numbers from mainland China, its surveillance is far-reaching. WeChat does not offer end-to-end encryption, a privacy feature that users expect from most messaging apps. The app has backdoors that allow third parties to read the messages you send and receive”.

This means you may want to think twice before using WeChat to host any private conversations or share sensitive data.

Can you use WeChat in the UK? 

WeChat is available in more than 200 countries and regions globally, including the UK. The only unusual caveat is that you will need to find someone already registered with WeChat to verify your account in order to sign up. 

The app is compatible with all major mobile operating systems, including iOS 9.0 and above and Android 4.4 and above. It’s free to use but you can pay extra to access different sticker sets or make calls to international landlines via WeChat Out. 

WeChat Pay is one of the most common payment methods in China and the biggest rival to Alibaba’s Alipay. WeChat contactless payments are also accepted by many retailers and businesses in the UK and the app can also be used to transfer money between friends. However, you do need a Chinese bank account to use the service.

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