Unpopular Chinese app enters UN education list

Alibaba-owned DingTalk, an enterprise communication platform much like Slack, was quick to add a “Homeschooling” feature when schools in China did not reopen after Lunar New Year due to COVID-19. According to Alibaba, 50 million students are now using DingTalk’s Homeschooling features, which include live-streamed classes for up to 300 students, online homework, exams, and grading.

Now, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has featured DingTalk on a list of educational applications and platforms that “facilitate student learning and provide social caring and interaction during periods of school closure”. DingTalk was included in the category of “collaboration platforms that support live-video communication” along with the likes of Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

In the past, DingTalk has received criticism from users for its Orwellian features. The features criticised include monitoring time spent in the office by sensing when employees’ phones are connected to the office’s WiFi. Another feature sends out of office hours messages which can be followed up with a text message or phone call reminder if not read within a set period.

Although the Homeschooling edition does not provide all of the features used by employees, it does contain the clock-in/clock-out feature, which requires students at home to get up and follow a rigid school schedule. This feature did not go down well with students. After a rumour spread that apps with one-star ratings are kicked off the iOS app store, floods of students gave the app a one-star rating, one comment in the app store jokingly saying “I’ll give you a five-star rating in five instalments”.

Credit: TechNode

As the app slumped towards a two-star rating, DingTalk posted a video with a tearful cartoon bird, singing “I know guys, you were not expecting such a productive holiday” and “Please don’t give me any more one-star ratings. I was chosen for this job, and there is not much I can do about it.” DingTalk has since recovered to a mere 2.5-star rating in the Chinese iOS app store.

Last week, DingTalk released “DingTalk Lite”, a global version tailed for Japan, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, and Singapore, including English language support for use worldwide. As much of education and business goes online, there is vast potential for collaboration tools. The question now is, how much are you willing to be micromanaged online?

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