WeChat, one of the world’s most popular instant messaging applications, was allegedly flooded with malicious mini-programs and experts are now urging Tencent to improve efforts to make the app safer.

Mini-programs which were launched by Tencent back in January 2017, are sub-applications within the WeChat ecosystem. They are popular with tens of thousands of users as they need not be downloaded and available for almost all kinds of services within the instant messaging application, Xinhua News Agency reported, the Paper recapped.

According to a 2019 survey by Tencent on data gathered from 8,000 WeChat users, 72% had tried mini-programs and 34% of them admitted to be frequent users. The most downloaded mini programs by category are the mini games (42%) followed by lifestyle mini apps (39%), Blog/News (28%), and e-commerce mini-programs.

However, problems have started blossoming on the ecosystem, and tens of thousands of mini-programs were allegedly malicious.

Scammers have posed as legitimate vendors on e-commerce mini-programs, selling knock-off products such as fake Rolex watches. In mini games, mobile users who would like to proceed to higher-level rounds are forced to go through advertisements, some of which contain misleading content.

Many mini programs take surety money and promise to pay back with interest if they check in every day and share the information with their friends. Developers can change terms easily, making every user lose money at once.

There are at least three major reasons for the increase in malicious mini-programs on WeChat.

First, mini-programs are very cheap to develop, compared to a standard mobile application, with the average cost for a customised program only about a few hundred Chinese yuan. Those that have been flagged or reported can easily be resurrected at low cost.

Second, though Tencent has tried to remove problematic programs, the damage has already been done and can only be remedied.

Thirdly, WeChat users give away their personal information easily without reading the terms of mini programs. They often add programs that are recommended by their friends without a second thought.