o of China’s leading internet companies, Tencent and Qihoo, have been forced by the Chinese authorities to issue public apologies over a nasty spat marked by accusations of unfair market practices and privacy infringement.
Tencent, China’s premier online game operator and its largest instant messaging provider, and security software developer Qihoo 360 issued the apologies late on Sunday after being ordered to do so by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
The Ministry said both companies need to “strengthen professional ethics” to prevent such a spat from happening again.
Tencent, parent company of the popular instant messaging service QQ, is partly owned by South African media giant Naspers, which has a 35% stake in Tencent. Naspers is a US$15-billion South African-based media company focused on internet investments in emerging markets.
The public feud began in September when Tencent encouraged users to download its upgraded security software. Qihoo 360 subsequently accused QQ of trying to scan its users’ personal data and it issued tools to block QQ components.
Tencent earlier this month announced that QQ would no longer function on computers using Qihoo 360 products, while Qihoo 360 in turn took similar moves.
The row triggered harsh criticism from web users in China, which has the world’s largest online population, with at least 420 million people using the internet.
In a statement on its website, Qihoo 360 said “we hearby apologise to society and netizens and will stop the mutual attacks between the companies.”
The ministry had earlier on Sunday told the companies to “publicly apologise to society,” saying in a statement the feud had “sparked user discontent and caused vile social influences”.
“We hearby sincerely apologise to all the users that have been troubled by this incident,” Tencent said in its statement.
Tencent claims QQ has more than 600-million active user accounts, while Qihoo 360 boasts more than 300-million, Chinese media have reported.
The ministry statement had said the two firms must “stop attacking each other” and ensure that their software is compatible.
Authorities will investigate whether either company violated any laws amid the dispute, it added.
“The two companies should learn lessons from this incident… strengthen professional ethics, strictly regulate their practices and make sure similar incidents never happen again,” the statement said.