After acquiring Uber China, Didi Chuxing’s first major change is to stop foreigners from using it

Closed for business.
Closed for business.
Image: REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
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Uber China is looking less and less like the company that created it.

Didi Chuxing has launched an updated version of Uber for Chinese users, just two months after it announced it would acquire the global ride-hailing company’s China division. The new app looks and works much like the older version, albeit with some key differences–namely, it will be impossible for most foreigners to use.

According to Uber China, Uber’s original app worked anywhere in the world regardless of the app store it came from. But the new Chinese version, co-developed by Didi, only works in China, according to a company news release. Meanwhile, users that download Uber from app stores based outside of China (like Google Play or any version of Apple’s App Store outside of China) will not be able to use it from within China. A company spokesperson based in Shanghai told Quartz that the situation is a “transition period” but won’t specify how long it will last.

As a result, the once-universal Uber app has in essence been siphoned off much like the rest of the internet, with one service for China and another for the rest of the world. The new Chinese app officially launches Nov. 3, but is being pilot tested starting Oct. 26.

Didi has also removed the app’s English-language interface, as well as the option to pay with foreign credit cards. That means many of the 800,000 expats living in China (along with hundreds of millions of overseas tourists) will suddenly be left with no choice but to grab taxis when getting around the city, unless Uber fixes this issue in future versions. Didi and smaller Chinese ride-sharing players like Yidao Yongche have never offered English-language apps, so Uber was the only choice for non-Mandarin readers.

Didi has also made other changes to the app. Uber users in China now call a customer service hotline to leave complaints, rather than sending them to a support division from inside the app. According to Uber China, this is despite how popular Uber’s existing app-only customer service is because “Chinese consumers are not used to it.”

In addition, passengers can now share their real-time location with their contacts through WeChat, China’s most popular messaging app. That will put an end to a year-long block on all-things Uber on WeChat, which is owned by Chinese tech giant Tencent, one of Didi’s investors.

“Uber, as a Silicon Valley company, did not localize very well,” according to the Uber China release, but the new features introduced by Didi are preferred by many of Chinese users.

Uber China also removed carpooling, inter-city transport, and rides from 7-seater cars from its app in order to meet stricter regulations recently  proposed (link in Chinese) by Chinese authorities. (Update: Uber China says that they just removed the carpool button in the UI, but still offer the service within “People’s Uber+,” a low cost tier.)

At the time of the acquisition, Didi said that Uber China would ”maintain independent branding and business operations to ensure stability and continuity of service for passengers.” Yet recent changes in both the app and Uber China’s staff suggest that this independence is fast-disappearing. In addition to a mass exodus of Uber China employees, last month Liu Zhen, the division’s leader, officially stepped down. She will reportedly join Jinri Toutiao (link in Chinese), one of China’s most popular news apps.