On the evening of April 13, Tencent issued a statement saying that the international version of QQ, a popular messaging app, will remain online in Europe to provide services to users in the region.
Just a few hours ago, QQ International (QQi) users received a push notification saying “QQ is sorry to announce that for operation needs from 20 May 2018, QQi will no longer be available in Europe”.
Tencent has refuted rumors that the statement may be related to the EU’s pending implementation of one of the most stringent data privacy regulations to date.
The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will be enforced on May 25. This will have a significant impact on global internet companies operating in Europe.
The regulation applies to any company involved in preserving and handling the personal data of EU citizens, regardless of where the company is located. Put another way, as long as its products or services are sold in the EU, the company must comply with the regulation. The regulation sets strict protection standards for personal data security and privacy, and determines how to legitimately apply new technologies and business innovations in gaining personal data.
According to this regulation, internet products must explicitly ask for user consent before using the user’s data. The product is also required to explain how user data will be used for advertising. This means that software such as Facebook and QQ must specifically ask if users are willing to continue to provide information about sexuality, political views and even ethnicity.
Tencent has yet to respond to how QQ will meet the regulation’s requirements.
A source pointed out that Tencent’s statement specifically referred to QQi, but did not indicate whether QQ will continue to operate in the EU.
According to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook had implemented a number of rules before the new EU regulations go into effect. Zuckerberg said that Facebook is willing to globally extend these privacy protection standards, with some exceptions.
According to another report, during the U.S. Congress hearing, Zuckerberg’s team cautioned him not to say that Facebook had met all of EU’s requirements, as Facebook has not yet done so.
The EU plans to impose a fine of 20 million euros or four percent annual turnover on companies who violate the regulation, in addition to banning their products sales and discontinuing their services.
According to Tencent’s latest earnings data, as of Q4 2017, there were 783 million monthly active QQ accounts, down 9.8 percent year-over-year. The number of monthly active QQ Smart Terminal accounts reached 683 million, up 1.7 percent year-over-year. The number of simultaneously online QQ accounts that quarter peaked at 271 million, an increase of 11.1 percent year-over-year. Tencent did not disclose the number of QQi users.