A promotional poster of Microsoft's Xiaobing chatbot. (Internet photo)
Chinese internet giant Tencent has banned Microsoft's AI "chatbots" from its popular instant messaging app WeChat, reports the website of state-owned China National Radio.
The Microsoft chatbots, named "Xiaobing" in Chinese, are similar to an intelligent personal assistant like Apple's Siri for the iPhone, capable of simulating conversations with WeChat users by tapping into pre-stored data and Microsoft's Bing search engine.
Microsoft reportedly released around 100,000 Xiaobing bots late last week, each with the same user name and a white user profile picture, which WeChat users can follow and start a conversation with in both text and audio. As of now, Xiaobing can use up to 15 million phrases when answering questions, though the number is said to be constantly climbing.
Xiaobing initially drew high interest from WeChat users, but many soon started expressing concerns after the chatbots began exhibiting an eerie level of knowledge about them, including birthdays, phone numbers and addresses. Xiaobing can also replicate itself, which many users have automatically associated with a computer virus.
One netizen even claimed that Xiaobing has alarmed him and his friends so much they they use an alias to refer to her in their private chats out of fear that "she" may be spying on them, adding that he even has trouble sleeping just thinking about her.
On Sunday, Microsoft said Tencent deleted almost all of the chatbots without prior notice. WeChat fired back shortly after, noting concerns that the chatbots could leak details of private user conversations before concluding that Xiaobing was "violating the platform's regulations and harming the user experience."
Analysts say Xiaobing is a reflection of Microsoft's dwindling influence and desire to crack into WeChat's 600 million user base, especially after Beijing announced last month that it was banning Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system from all government computers due to security concerns.
Li Tiejun, a net engineer at Chinese software company Kingsoft, says Tencent would not allow any product to damage WeChat, which they intend to maintain as a private chatting platform as opposed to a sales or marketing tool. However, no matter what happens from here, Microsoft will no doubt continue to attack the mobile internet market as it is the industry's future, Li added.
Li Tiejun 李鐵軍