Billionaire Pony Ma is the CEO of Tencent, the Chinese tech company that runs WeChat. The app is also known as Weixin, which means "micro message."
WeChat, founded in 2011, quickly expanded from messaging to include video calling and social media.
In the same way, parent company Tencent has expanded into gaming, mobile payments and entertainment. The company has spun off its music streaming business to partner with Spotify. Forbes estimates Tencent's market capitalization at $509.7 billion.
WeChat's biggest competitor is WhatsApp, a similar service bought by Facebook in 2014 and used by an estimated 2 billion people.
WeChat displaced another Chinese platform, the microblogging service Weibo, to become China's favorite app. WeChat enables users to hail taxis, store their IDs and shop online, according to BusinessofApps.
However, Americans may want to think twice about downloading the app. The University of California warned students traveling to China not to use WeChat because of the case of Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen being held in Russia.
"While the use of WhatsApp, WeChat and like messaging apps are legal in China, we have seen in the latest espionage charge of a U.S. citizen in Russia where the use of WhatsApp has been cited in his espionage charges," a U.C. official wrote in a 2019 email according to CNN.
The university officials said they did not recommend using the apps in China because
"Our concern here is the possibility China could use this condition similarly against western travelers to levy charges or as an excuse to deny departure," the email continued. "We recommend not using these messaging apps in China at this time."
Meanwhile, U.S. politicians and officials are warning Americans about other Chinese apps including TikTok, which is known as Douyin in China and used by hundreds of millions of people there.