(Credit: DingTalk)

WeChat reigns supreme as the texting app of choice in China, but competitor DingTalk has carved out a space specific to business use. However, Reuters reports that many DingTalk users feel under the microscope at the office, because of the number of tools in the app that managers can use to monitor where their employees are and what they're up to at any given moment.

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Within China, DingTalk lays claim to over 100 million user accounts and 7 million individual businesses. But according to one user, "There's a saying in my circle, that you should quit the day your company installs DingTalk." Possible reasons include a feature where employees have to use the app to clock in and out of work, another where the must report their specific location, and a "daily report" where they must itemize everything they worked on that day.

But perhaps the biggest complaint is about the "Ding" feature, which lets a manager fire off notifications, texts, and phone call requests to a specific user, all day long. Read receipts are also enabled by default, so your manager knows when you've seen something and when you're avoiding it.

A former software sales agent in Beijing lamented, "Every level of management thinks their demand is the top priority and should be dealt with first. Even worse, they will ding you through DingTalk even on holiday and you can't pretend you didn't see it."

According to Reuters, usage data from DingTalk has been used before as evidence for terminating someone, so the downsides of its presence in the workplace extend beyond day-to-day annoyances.

DingTalk chief executive Wu Zhao says that DingTalk is intended to help improve transparency and efficiency at the workplace, adding "The tool itself is not the problem; the way it is used is the problem." Like WeChat, DingTalk is provided for free, though there are optional paid features including extra cloud storage, conference calling, and third-party integrations.

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DingTalk's owner Alibaba does not publicize how much revenue the app generates. According to Wu, he's been given a broad mandate to help small and medium businesses communicate with their employees, and that making a profit was a secondary concern.

As of May this year, WeChat averaged 1 billion active users a month, creating quite an obstacle for competitors that want to lure people away. Just last month, Google launched an AI-based game for WeChat -- and Google is reportedly in talks with the Chinese government to reintroduce its search engine to the country after an eight-year absence.

The takeaways

  1. DingTalk is quickly taking over as the default workplace chat app in China, but many workers are put off by its level of surveillance.
  2. DingTalk's tools give managers the ability to interrupt work flows by blitzing you with messages that you can't ignore or deal with later, and some workers have complained that these notices can come when they are on vacation or off the clock.

See also

Tom is the senior editor covering Windows at Download.com.