Tencent Holdings’ super app WeChat, with a user base of 1.2 billion people, has blocked links for a ByteDance remote work tool, as Chinese tech giants fight for dominance in the burgeoning enterprise collaboration market.

The latest move adds another ByteDance app to WeChat’s blacklist – which already includes Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, and its sister platform Xigua Video – amid ongoing accusations that Tencent uses its market dominance to stifle competition.

Feishu, the Chinese version of ByteDance's productivity tool Lark, said on Saturday that users could not open any of its links on WeChat, nor could they share name cards to invite colleagues.

Tencent's WeChat is fighting competitor ByteDance by completely blocking the company's apps like the local version of TikTok. (Picture: Justin Chin/Bloomberg)

Feishu said WeChat did not provide advance notice of the ban, adding that the move has “significantly affected work efficiency and user experience” at a time when many companies in China have moved their office operations online to limit the spread of coronavirus infections.

Instead, users need to copy the link and open it in a browser, instead of opening the app directly via WeChat.

A WeChat representative declined to comment other than to cite the company’s regulations on external links. The rules, introduced in October 2019, said the platform will punish websites or apps that send links to “mislead or entice users to download or redirect to an external app.” Punishment includes blocking their domain name from opening in WeChat.

Xie Xin, a ByteDance vice-president overseeing Feishu, said the app does not support sign-ups using a WeChat account nor does it enable the sharing of documents or messages on the Tencent app.

In addition to blocking the ByteDance app, WeChat also suspended two tech-focused media websites, 36Kr and ITHome, from publishing posts on the platform after they reported the Lark case over the weekend. The relevant articles have also been removed from WeChat.

The WeChat representative said it did not force media to delete their articles. Rather, the media in question have violated WeChat’s rules on multiple occasions.

The enterprise collaboration industry in China, which has received a huge boost from the health crisis, is forecast to achieve a compound annual growth rate of 12.4% over five years to reach nearly 49 billion yuan (US$7 billion) by 2024, according to the Qianzhan Industry Research Institute.

Feishu is a small but fast-emerging player in that sector, jumping 40 places from late January to become the 15th most downloaded business iOS app on Monday. However, it still lags far behind Alibaba Group Holding’s DingTalk as well as Tencent's WeChat Work and Tencent Meeting, which ranked as the top three among business iOS apps in China as of Monday, according to App Annie.

Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.

Tencent has also blocked apps from other Chinese tech giants. Links for Taobao Marketplace, Alibaba’s vast online shopping site, and Haokan, a short video app from Baidu, cannot be accessed on WeChat.

In contrast, Tencent allows the sharing of links for JD.com and Pinduoduo pages, online retail marketplaces in which the company owns a financial stake.

“Having more than 1 billion users, [WeChat] has a monopolistic position in the market,” said Wang Sixin, a professor at the Communication University of China who specializes in media policy and rules. “Under these circumstances, Tencent has to have legitimate reasons to block other apps, otherwise it’s taking advantage of its dominance to force out smaller rivals.”

In April of last year, a Chinese lawyer sued Tencent under the country’s anti-monopoly law, charging that the company’s actions infringed on his rights as a user. In December, the intellectual property court in Beijing heard the case, with Tencent representatives arguing that WeChat did not prevent users from sharing links and using the app on other platforms, Southern Metropolis Daily reported. The court has not yet reached a verdict.

Besides enterprise collaboration, Tencent and ByteDance compete against each other in other fields. Last week, Tencent began testing a short video function for WeChat, a sector dominated by TikTok and Douyin, while ByteDance plans to launch more game titles this year to challenge Tencent's dominance in gaming.

(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post.)