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Tencent and Qihoo in Privacy War

First published: 09th November 2010

Two Mainland Chinese companies are locked in a battle over privacy, security and business practices. The incident began in September, when Qihoo, which is based in Beijing and makes 360 Safeguard antivirus software, introduced "Privacy Protector", a tool to warn when instant-messaging software was accessing private files, the software soon began warning about QQ instant messaging client, produced by Shenzhen-based Tencent. Then, in October, Qihoo launched Koukou Bodyguard, to protect QQ users' privacy, prevent Trojans and improve the speed of QQ.

Tencent counter-attacked, explaining that QQ had started scanning for trojans in 2006, when account-stealing had become widespread, and accusing the Koukou Bodyguard tool of putting QQ users' account information at risk by scanning QQ records, including usernames, passwords, friends and dialogue when the users logged into QQ.

For a time, Tencent said it would shut down QQ when it found 360 Safeguard running on a computer. It asked users to uninstall 360 Safeguard to protect their own security, saying that it had been forced to make a difficult decision. Late last week, Tencent apologised for that decision and said that if users completely removed Koukou Bodyguard it would allow QQ functions to resume.

The Xinhua News Agency, the official press agency of the government of the People's Republic of China, quoted Qihoo executives as saying that the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the Ministry of Public Security had intervened, but a resolution has yet to be reached.

Qihoo and Tencent are important technology companies on the Mainland, 360 Safeguard has 300 million users, and QQ is the most popular instant messaging service there, with 600 million users. The case seems to be as much about competitive control of users' machines as invasion of their privacy.

Tencent is now suing Qihoo for unfair competition and demanding 4 million yuan in compensation in Beijing's Chaoyang District People's Court. Other IT companies have sided with Tencent; Baidu, Maxthon, anti-virus developers Kingsoft and Keniu have announced that their products will be made incompatible with Qihoo's new software.

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