Uber says its accounts are no longer accessible in China via the country's most popular messaging app WeChat, and is hoping this will change as it increases it investment in the local market.
The apparent ban surfaced after competing ride-sharing service Didi Dache, which is funded by WeChat's owner Tencent, merged with Alibaba-funded Kuaidi Dache in February 2015. According to Uber, features on its accounts from March were gradually removed in various Chinese cities, including its customer support profile, reported Bloomberg.
Citing Uber's senior vice president for business, Emil Michael, the report added that Tencent proceeded to ban or halt all of Uber's accounts on WeChat. "From [the Didi Kuaidi merger] is when you start to see a deterioration in the competitive environment, and it hit a crescendo where our accounts actually got shut off in March," said Michael.
Local media reported that Tencent previously attributed the issues to policy violations on Uber's part as well as technical bugs. Before the merger, Tencent also blocked Kuaidi from sharing coupons on WeChat.
Uber itself was accused of using dubious tactics against its competitors in the US, where rival Lyft last year said Uber ordered then cancelled more than 5,000 rides in an attempt to sabotage Lyft drivers and redirect riders toward Uber.
A ban on WeChat, though, can potentially hurt Uber's presence in China as the messaging app is an essential marketing and promotional platform for brands that want to target the country's growing consumer market.
WeChat has a monthly active user base of more than 549 million globally, with the majority living in China who tap the mobile app not only as a communication tool, but also to receive updates and coupons from local and foreign brands. The platform has a payment service that enables merchants to process online transactions with WeChat users.
Michael expressed optimism that the ban would be temporary. "I think as we continue to succeed and it's clear we're in this for the long haul--we've got Chinese investors behind us; we've got partnerships with cities; we're spending money in the local economy; local investors have an interest in our success--then we'll get into more of a détente mode," he said in the Bloomberg report.
Uber last week said it was assessing the possibility of a public listing in China to raise funds for its expansion plans in the country. The US-based ride-sharing service is reportedly looking to secure US$1 billion in funds to support its operations in the Chinese market, which is currently dominated by Didi Kuaidi.