#Asia Alipay apologises for ‘Circles’ function that led to risqué chat groups


The feature would allow people to post pictures of scantly clad women in exchange for ‘tips’


Ant Financial Executive Chairman Lucy Peng apologised Tuesday after a product launch from Alipay resulted in the emergence of popular chat groups in which women would post revealing photos for monetary incentives — prompting public backlash and drawing comparisons to prostitution.

According to Bloomberg, Peng said, “We apologize to all the Alipay users and partners who have entrusted us. Our teams will hold internal discussion to think clearly and put in writing what we want and don’t want.”

The function was called ‘Circles’ and in many ways it was meant to replicate WeChat’s moments feature and introduce a social networking function to Alipay.

Users could ‘Like’ posts and send up to RMB200 (US$29) in tips to content creators. This was the genesis of the problem.

Two of the most popular channels on Circles were called Xiaoyuan Riji (Journal of College Life) and Bailing Riji (Journal of White Collar Life) and were essentially just platforms for scantly clad women to post images in exchange for tips.

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What made these groups especially problematic for Alipay was the fact that they only allowed pictures of women to be posted on channel.

According to the Bloomberg article, Peng said Ant Financial would work to censor inappropriate content and block accounts.

The chat groups created significant public backlash — even drawing critiques from Wang Sicong, the son of China’s richest man Wang Jianlin. He said, “Alipay has transformed itself into a place for men to find hookers,” on his Weibo account.

Part of the story is a well-intentioned product launch that spiraled out of control as the idea was to build groups with more tame themes like electronics, pets or ‘mommy blogging’.

It is reminiscent of Reddit, in which there is an unbelievably rich rolodex of subreddits for people to discuss topics ranging from Magic The Gathering to American professional football. However, the porn on Reddit is a significant part of the website and, like Circles, has been the source of debate and criticism.

The main differences is Reddit does not have the payment feature and has stood firmly behind its free-speech absolutism in regards to the sexually explicit content (although that reputation took a hit last week when TechCrunch reported CEO Steve Huffman was editing posts from Trump supporters).

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In 2016, Ant Financial built itself into quite possible the best fintech company in Asia and in recent months has started to reach beyond China (the best example was the company’s investment into Ascend Money in November to enter Thailand).

According to Bloomberg, the company has over 100 million daily active users and is valued at US$75 billion.


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