Tencent Explains WeChat’s Unexpected Exposure to Foreign Search Engines: Loophole of Web Crawling Account Protocols

Tencent has fixed a bug it found on its popular messaging app WeChat on Friday that exposed some social media content to external search engines, such as Bing and Google.

“Due to the recent technology upgrades of the platform, a loophole was found in the Official Accounts’ robots protocol, which allowed external web crawling to access part of the content on WeChat’s official accounts platform,” Tencent said in a statement on Friday. “The loophole has now been fixed.”

Web crawling is a typical activity for search engines to discover publicly available web pages and extract data. The incident ignited discussion, particularly about the reason why WeChat only opened its search to foreign browsers, not domestic.

According to previous reports, this unexpected accident was because the robots.txt of WeChat’s official account website was deleted. This file is a robots protocol, whose full name is “Robots Exclusion Protocol”. Through this protocol the website tells search engines which pages can be crawled and which pages cannot.

Not long ago, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology as well as other official departments required domestic platforms to further open up. Mechanisms such as external chain shielding will be lifted to making it more convenient for users to share links. WeChat also started to allow users to access links outside of its own platform since September 17th of this year.

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In the current environment, the pace of interconnection in payment systems is also accelerating. Pinduoduo and Meituan have accessed more payment channels, including WeChat payment, Alipay, Quick pass, Apple Pay, and so on. UnionPay QuickPass can now be assessed on WeChat mini programs and Taobao, while WeChat payment collection code and Unionpay QuickPass App can recognize and scan each other.