With Facebook Messenger adding more and more features to its platform, trying to eventually become the 'One-Stop Shop' for all, I thought that it would be interesting to look at the Chinese example, WeChat, to see whether such initiatives are coming at a high cost to consumers, while adding value to our lives.
In China, the internet is actually an intranet. It's largely walled off from the Western world by a complex system of filters and blocks. That Great Firewall blocks any foreign site the Communist Party doesn't think it can control. That means that instead of Facebook, Twitter, Google, there are their Chinese copycats: Baidu instead of Google, Renren instead of Facebook, Sina Weibo instead of Twitter.
But things have started to shift. Now China is coming up with apps that are leading the way and western companies are trying to copy them. And the greatest example of this is WeChat.
WeChat is an example of a super-app that literally does everything for you. It's your WhatsApp, Facebook, Skype, Uber, Amazon, Instagram, Venmo and Tinder - all combined in one app. It's also other things we don't even have apps for!
It's not the variety of things you can do on WeChat that makes it so powerful, it's the fact that they are all in one app. Why does it matter? From a single app, you chat to your friends, make money transfers, use investment services, post your status/opinion on any subject, find dates, order a taxi, buy products & services, review companies... Imagine a restaurant, where there are no menus, no waiters, no cashiers but just WeChat.
By rolling so any functions into a single app, it has become a super power. But using a single app to find a date, make a money transfer, notarize a document, enables WeChat to collect a staggering volume of personal data. They know what you talk about, who you talk about it with, who you date, what you read, where you go, why you are going there, who's there, how you spend money when you are online, how you spend money when you are offline. The list goes on indefinitely.
For advertisers, this is a miracle. It's the combined data of Facebook, Amazon, Google and PayPal, all in one place. And even more importantly, all of that data is information Chinese companies are forced to share with the Chinese government, which has a long record of human rights violations and doesn't hesitate to stalk it's citizens.
If you are not in China, why does this matter? It matters, because we are starting to see a number of Western tech companies attempt to replicate super-apps like WeChat. For the companies, it's incredibly powerful, and for you and me it's convenient. But of course, it could also be problematic. Concentrating so much data in so few hands could lay the groundwork for a world, where companies and governments can track every single movement you make.
What is your opinion on super-apps?