China unleashed a new regulatory blow on tech giants on Monday, telling them to end their long-standing practice of blocking each other's links on their sites or face the consequences.
The comments, made by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) at a press conference, represented the latest step in Beijing's sweeping regulatory crackdown that has slashed sectors from technology to education and property and wiped out billions of dollars from the market value of some of the country's largest companies.
China's internet is dominated by a handful of tech giants who have historically blocked links and services by competitors on their platforms, and ministry spokesman Gao Zhiguo said restricting normal access to internet links without proper reason affects user experience, harms users' rights, and disrupts the system market, adding that the ministry has received reports and complaints from users since it launched a review of the industry and practices in July.
At the moment we are directing relevant companies to self-check and correct, he said, citing instant messaging platforms as one of the first areas they were targeting. He did not specify the consequences for companies not complying with the new guidelines.
The Department of Commerce and Industry did not name any companies, but the 21st Century Business Herald reported on Saturday that Alibaba Group Holdings Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Limited were among the companies asked to end the practice at an unspecified time last week.
Tencent restricts users from sharing content from ByteDance Douyin's owned short video app to Tencent's WeChat and QQ instant messaging apps, and in February, Douyin filed a complaint with a court in Beijing saying it constituted monopolistic behavior. Tencent described the accusations as baseless.
In other cases, Alibaba's Taobao and Tmall e-commerce marketplaces do not allow Tencent's WeChat Pay payment service as a payment option. Tencent said it supports the department's guidance and will make the necessary changes in phases.