China Congress Rules: Airbnb, Ironman and Profile-Picture Updates Must Wait

By Alyssa Abkowitz and Yoko Kubota Features Dow Jones Newswires

Tight security for the opening of the Communist Party congress Wednesday extended well beyond a beefed-up police presence on the streets and subways of China's capital.

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Cyberspace appeared to go on partial lockdown too.

China's primary social media platforms-- WeChat, QQ and Weibo--all announced system maintenance or upgrades on the eve of the 19th Communist Party congress, which means, for now, users can't change their profile pictures or personal information.

Tencent Holdings Ltd., which runs WeChat and QQ, declined to comment on the timing of the announcement, and Weibo Corp. didn't immediately respond.

Many users of the service, however, concluded that the move came in response to the congress, the twice-a-decade event crucial in charting the party's future leadership.

"Social media is used as a tool to deliver different types of messages," said Kitty Fok, China's managing director at research firm IDC. "The government believes one single message is most important."

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Journalists also experienced some tech restrictions. Ahead of Wednesday's opening ceremony, accredited members of the news media were informed of a "One Mobile Phone, One Journalist" rule at the venue overlooking Tiananmen Square.

"According to the regulations of the Great Hall of the People, journalists may carry ONLY ONE mobile phone per person to enter the journalists' area," the notice said.

The weeks leading up to the conclave were sprinkled with unexplained restrictions that veteran China watchers linked to the 19th Party Congress. Facebook Inc.'s WhatsApp service experienced disruptions, two Ironman athletic competitions were postponed, and foreigners were barred from traveling to Tibet between Oct. 18 and Oct. 28.

Popular home-sharing site Airbnb removed all of its central Beijing listings throughout October, saying in a statement that it was "similar to action taken by other hospitality companies." It added that guests affected by the suspension of service would receive full refunds.

Meanwhile, some people who purchased items from merchants on Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.'s Taobao Marketplace were contacted to say delivery options would be limited or delayed because of the party congress. Alibaba didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Xiao Xiao contributed to this article.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 18, 2017 08:24 ET (12:24 GMT)