TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) - In the cramped former home of Jack Ma, founder of the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, about thirty young engineers sit elbow-to-elbow, working to attract the next million users for DingTalk, Alibaba’s workplace communication software.
Their installation in the hallowed flat where Ma got his start in the eastern city of Hangzhou reflects DingTalk’s place in the pecking order of the company’s sprawling collection of start-up projects.
Since December 2014, DingTalk has grown exponentially to become the world’s largest chat service designed for companies, with over 100 million individual users and 7 million employers across China. The company says, without providing numbers, that it also has a growing presence in Europe, the United States and Southeast Asia.
But its rapid rise - propelled by a promise to boost productivity through better monitoring of employee movements and faster responses to important messages - has sparked a backlash from Chinese workers who say the app fuels an unhealthy work culture.
That also raises questions about DingTalk’s ability to expand into the West, where people are typically guarded about their workplace privacy. In China, surveillance by the authorities and employers is already common.
Like WhatsApp, DingTalk lets senders see if recipients have read messages, but it also has a “ding” feature that can bombard recipients with repeat notifications, text messages and phone-call reminders.
On top of this original feature, the company has added a wide range of functions that include automatic expense claims, a clock-in system to monitor the whereabouts of employees, as well as a “daily report” function that requires workers to list completed tasks.