Tencent, QQ.com’s parent company, is being sued by an angry user for impersonating a friend and getting him to link through to a contest site. Damages sought: 40,000 Q coins, and 445 5-digit QQ numbers (see previous post on the value of QQ numbers). Is this the first time that a court of law has been asked to award virtual currency in a settlement? It all points to the way that Q coins are increasingly being used as an alternative to the RMB for online economic transactions. It makes sense, given that a) so few Chinese have credit cards with which to pay for online goods and services; b) the vast majority DO have QQ accounts and Q coins with which to purchase online goods and services; and c) You can accumulate Q coins by playing online QQ games.
A 12/29 article in China’s International Finance News 国际金融报 reports that Tencent itself is suspected by some users of instigating Q coin robbery schemes. According to a QQ user quoted in the piece, "Nearly every QQ user has felt the pain of having their QQ number and QQ coins stolen." "Little Wang" had 3265.15 Q coins in his QQ account, earned from playing a QQ game. He was just about to buy a new suit of clothing for his QQ avatar, when he discovered his account only contained 265.15 Q coins. He contacted Tencent directly, but in the meantime was robbed again and left with ony 5.15 Q coins. The company told him that they wouldn’t do anything for him until he reported the theft to the police. Wang goes on to say that from what he’s seen in the QQ BBS forums on Q coin theft, other users have had the same experience as him–Tencent doesn’t do anything but offer tips on how to protect themselves from further theft, and doesn’t reimburse them.
Mr. Li, an unidentified "Chinese finance expert" goes on to say, "A lot of netizens are going online at home, with official-version anti-virus software installed. QQ numbers should be very difficult to steal. Some netizens suspect Tencent…Every Q coin exchange has a record. Every QQ account has an IP address associated with it. It should be easy to find out whether a Q coin has been stolen in order to be spent, so why won’t Tencent do it?…"
For background, Kent Ewing has written the most informative piece on QQ coin in English that I can find, in the Asia Times on December 5 (my apologies if this is really old news to some readers!). A few key excerpts:
Public prosecutor Yang Tao issued this warning: "The QQ coin is challenging the status of the renminbi [yuan] as the only legitimate currency in China." In an article published recently in the Nanfang Daily,the prosecutor wrote that the central government would act to "limit the application of QQ coins" and assure that their use is restricted to the virtual world.
…Tencent boasts more than 220 million users, and its QQ coins can be purchased with a bank, telephone or "QQ" card at an official price of 1 yuan (12.5 cents) per coin. Originally, the virtual coins were designed to pay for Tencent services such as electronic greeting cards, online games and anti-virus software. Now, however, they have reportedly developed into an alternative currency
traded on the black market and used for other, less savory services, such as online gambling and
private chats with "QQ girls".
…the operators of some Internet forums are now paid in QQ coins rather than the official currency. And there is evidence that other online sites not associated with Tencent also accept QQ coins.
If this is true, that’s what will tip the scale.