Jelly is a new metaverse app that was the most downloaded application in China last week. In all, it racked up 1.85 million downloads in three weeks, but was taken down by its publisher from app stores after it came under fire for breaching copyright and failing to maintain the integrity of its users’ privacy.
Developed by a studio wholly owned by news aggregator Beijing Yidian Wangju Technology Co Ltd, Jelly was released in January and quickly became popular among users in their teens and 20s. Last week, it surpassed WeChat and became the top choice in the social network category in China’s app stores.
Described as “a virtual apartment for you and your close friends,” Jelly allows users to create avatars, build outfits, and interact by sending each other messages. Jelly also has a geolocation function that mirrors the real world—each avatar traverses a map of our actual streets, so users can share real-time locations to indicate how far they are from each other.
Many Jelly users noticed an uptick in spam calls and messages after registering to use the metaverse app. Some users have posted screenshots where their logs of incoming calls and text messages only show spammers. They have suggested this was the result of joining Jelly.
Also, Jelly’s user agreement indicates that it retains a user’s data for 15 days if an account is deactivated, leading to questions about privacy and data security. However, apps often hold onto a user’s data after an account is deleted, in case the user decides to reactivate their presence on the platform. In some cases, user data may be kept for months before it is permanently purged.
Last Friday, Jelly issued a public statement on Weibo to say the allegations were “untrue,” and that the posts were part of “malicious defamation organized by competitors.”
Aside from the matter of data security, independent fashion designers and bloggers have noticed that some of the wardrobe items for Jelly avatars are identical to their products, suggesting that Jelly had infringed on their copyright. Jelly did not offer a response but removed the clothing items in question from the app.
Jelly’s developer took down the application from app stores over the weekend. Yidian Wangju Technology Co said on Weibo that Jelly was “undergoing an annoying and organized attack,” so the app was pulled while the company performed server upgrades.
Jelly is not the only app that was made with avatar customization as a selling point to attract younger users. Last week, Tencent launched a new feature on messaging app QQ called Super QQ Show, where users can design the facial features of their own 3D virtual avatars and interact with each other.
However, metaverse social media apps built by Chinese companies are still in their early stage of development. Baidu and ByteDance have each launched their own metaverses over the past months. Both apps have been experiencing technical issues and are available to a limited number of users.