China net spat stops World Cup bets

Charles Clover and Ma Fangjing
Brent Lewin & Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Users of a leading Chinese betting site found their efforts to gamble on World Cup games thwarted on Monday amid a spat between the country's two largest internet groups over who was to blame for the outage of an online payments engine.

With deciding games in the tournament's first stage about to be played, tempers frayed when visitors to Tencent's mobile betting site QQ Lottery were told they would not be accepting payments from Alipay, the online payments arm of Tencent's arch rival, ecommerce company Alibaba.

Tencent insisted it was a technical problem caused by delays in account transfers on the Alipay side, "which negatively affects the user experience" on its QQ betting site. However, customers were sceptical. One user of Weibo, China's version of Twitter, responded with an emoticon of a smiley face picking its nose and asked: "Is this really the reason?"

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Many observers assumed Tencent had blocked Alipay to boost usage of its competing online payments engine Tenpay, a charge Tencent denies. Tenpay has struggled to gain market share amid Alipay's dominance of online payment – estimated by Beijing internet company iResearch at 50 per cent against Tenpay's 20 per cent.

The lively exchange escalated to a war of words in which Alipay derided Tencent's explanation for the outage as "bullshit" on its official Weibo feed. Tencent representative Zhang Jun was more measured, responding with a message not to "overinterpret" the situation.

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Analysts have long been predicting all-out war between China's three internet giants. Alibaba and Tencent, along with search engine Baidu, are all comfortably in the top 10 internet companies worldwide, whether ranked by revenues, market capitalization or traffic.

They have launched rival taxi-hailing apps and instant messaging services, and compete over everything from restaurant review apps to which US TV serials are shown on their video-hosting platforms.

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The rivalry remains mostly civilized, but the companies have occasionally become more aggressive, for example blocking rivals' customers from using their sites. Last year Alibaba blocked Baidu's search engine crawlers from its ecommerce websites Taobao and Tmall.

Then in April, after Alibaba and partner UCWeb created Shenma, a joint venture mobile search engine designed to compete with Baidu, users of UCWeb's browser who visited Baidu received a message that they were using an "unsupported browser". After a few days the problem went away.

On Monday Tencent representatives insisted the technical glitch with Alipay was only temporary – and totally Alipay's fault.

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"Both our technical teams are working together to look into the matter and investigating the reason for the delay in account transfers when purchasing QQ Lottery," wrote Mr Zhang on his Weibo feed. "We all need to be more rational."