Tencent QQ was first released in China in February 1999 under the name of OICQ ("Open ICQ", a reference to the early IM service ICQ).
After the threat of a trademark infringement lawsuit by the AOL-owned ICQ, the product's name was changed to QQ (with "Q" and "QQ" used to stand for the word "cute"). The software inherited existing functions from ICQ, with additional features such as software skins, people's images, and motions. QQ was first released as a "network paging" real-time communications service. Other mainly free features were later added, such as chatrooms, games, personal avatars (similar to "Meego" in MSN), online storage, and Internet dating services.
The official client runs on Microsoft Windows and a beta public version was launched for Mac OS X version 10.4.9 or newer. Formerly, two web versions, WebQQ (full version) and WebQQ Mini (Lite version), which made use of Ajax, were available. Development, support, and availability of WebQQ Mini, however, have since been discontinued. On 31 July 2008, Tencent released an official client for Linux, but this has not since been kept in step with the Windows version and it is not capable of voice chat.
In response to competition with Windows Live Messenger, Tencent released Tencent Messenger, which is for business people. It also provides, in limited form, features that are only available to premium members in normal QQ. A beta version of QQ is currently available for Symbian S60 3rd Edition.
Tencent QQ holds the Guinness World Record for the highest number of simultaneous online users on an instant messaging program, with 210,212,085 users online on July 3, 2014.
Tencent's QQ Group also manages numerous other software applications, such as the Qzone social network, QQ Mail, QQ Music, QQ Pinyin input method, QQ Computer Management, QQ Browser, QQ Dictionary, and Tencent Video.
In 2002, Tencent stopped its free membership registration, requiring all new members to pay a fee.In 2003, however, this decision was reversed due to pressure from other instant messaging services such as Windows Live Messenger and Sina UC. Tencent currently offers a premium membership scheme, which offers features such as QQ mobile, ringtone downloads, and SMS sending/receiving. In addition, Tencent offers "Diamond" level memberships. Currently, there are seven diamond schemes available:Red, for the QQ Show service which features some superficial abilities such as having a colored account name .
Yellow, to obtain extra storage and decorations in Qzone—a blog service.
Blue, to obtain special abilities in the game-plays of QQ games.
Purple, for obtaining special abilities in games including QQSpeed, QQNana, and QQTang
Pink, for having different boosts in the pet-raising game called QQPet.
Green, for using QQ music—a service for users to stream music online.
VIP, for having extra features in the chat client such as removing advertisements
Black, for gaining benefits related to DNF (Dungeon & Fighter), a multiplayer PC beat 'em up video game.
The Q Coin is a virtual money used by QQ users to "purchase" QQ related items for their avatar and blog. Q Coins are obtained either by purchase (one coin for one RMB) or for using the mobile phone service. Due to the popularity of QQ among young Chinese, Q Coins are now accepted by gradually more and more online stores and gaming sites in exchange for "real" merchandise such as small gifts, and raised the concern of replacing (and thus "inflating") real currency in these transactions. The People's Bank of China, China's central bank, says it is investigating the possibility of cracking down on Q Coin, due to people using Q Coins in exchange for real world goods. Tencent claims the Q Coin was merely a regular commodity, and thus not a currency.
Coral QQ, a modification of Tencent QQ, is another add-on. While Tencent charges for some services and displays advertisements, Coral QQ provides free access to some of the services and blocks Tencent's advertisements. In 2006, Tencent filed a copyright lawsuit against Chen Shoufu (aka Soff), the author of Coral QQ, after his redistributing of a modified Tencent QQ was ruled illegal. Chen then published his modification as a separate add-on. On 16 August 2007, Chen was detained again for allegedly making profits off of his ad-blocking add-on. His case is pending at Shenzhen Nanshan district court.
In 2009 QQ began to expand its services internationally with its QQ International client for Windows distributed through a dedicated English-language portal.
QQ International offers non-Mandarin speakers the opportunity to use most of the features of its Chinese counterpart to get in touch with other QQ users via chat, VoIP, and video calls, and it provides a non-Mandarin interface to access Qzone, Tencent's social network. The client supports English, French, Spanish, German, Korean, Japanese and Traditional Chinese.
One of the main features of QQ International is the optional and automatic machine translation of all chats. Its last update was in 2014.
An Android version of QQ International was released in September 2013. The client's interface is in English, French, Spanish, German, Korean, Japanese and Classic Chinese. In addition to text messaging, users can send each other images, video, and audio media messages. Moreover, users can share multimedia content with all contacts through the client's Qzone interface.
The live translation feature is available for all incoming messages and supports up to 18 languages.
QQ International for iPhone and iOS devices was released at the end of 2013, fully equivalent to its Android counterpart. The last update was on January 20, 2017.
In India, Tencent has partnered with ibibo to bring such services as chat, mail and game to the developing Indian internet sphere.
In Vietnam, Tencent has struck a deal with VinaGame to bring the QQ Casual Gaming portal as well as the QQ Messenger as an addition to the already thriving Vietnamese gaming communities.
In the United States, Tencent has partnered with AOL to bring QQ Games as a contender in the US social gaming market. Launched in 2007, QQ Games comes bundled with the AIM installer, and competes with AOL's own games.com to provide a gaming experience for the AIM user base.
Tencent launched its web-based QQ formally on 15 September 2009, the latest version of which being 3.0. Rather than solely a web-based IM, WebQQ 3.0 functions more like its own operating system, with a desktop in which web applications can be added.
In 2009, Tencent launched Xiaoyou (校友, 'schoolmate'), its first social network website. In mid-2010, Tencent changed direction and replaced Xiaoyou with Pengyou (朋友, 'friends'), trying to establish a more widespread network, to which extant QQ users could be easily redirected, hence giving Pengyou a major advantage over its competitors. Tencent's social network Qzone is linked to in the International and native versions of QQ.
Using reverse engineering, open source communities have come to understand the QQ protocol better and have attempted to implement client core libraries compatible with more user-friendly clients, free of advertisements. Most of these clients are cross-platform, so they are usable on operating systems which the official client does not support. However, these implementations had only a subset of the functions of the official client and therefore were more limited in features. Furthermore, QQ's parent company, Tencent, has over successive versions modified the QQ protocol to the extent that it can no longer be supported by most, and perhaps any, of the third-party implementations that were successful in the past (some of which are listed below). As of 2009, none of the developers of third-party clients have publicized any plans to restore QQ support.Pidgin, an open source cross-platform multiprotocol client, with third-party plugin
Adium, an open source OS X client, with third-party plugin built on top of libqq-pidgin
Kopete, an open source multiprotocol client designed for KDE
Note: Kopete, old versions of Pidgin, and any other client whose QQ support is based on libpurple no longer supports QQ as of May 2011
Miranda IM, an open source multiprotocol client, designed for Microsoft Windows, with MirandaQQ2 plugin.
There also used to be several public Jabber transports available. Most of them stopped working due to frequent protocol changes made by Tencent. A service available at Open-QQ.tk, which uses the third-party plugin for Pidgin seems to be the only one working left.
Tencent has taken advantage of the popularity of the QQ brand, and has set up many Q-Gen stores selling QQ branded merchandise such as bags, watches, clothing as well as toy penguins.The accounts of QQ are all combined with numbers, the account numbers provided for the registered users are selected randomly by the system user registration. In 1995, the registered QQ accounts had only 5 digits, while currently the digital numbers used for QQ accounts has reached 12. The first QQ number is held by Ma Huateng and his account number is 10001.
The membership of a QQ account normally lasts for one month. When this membership is overdue and does not renewals, such membership would be resumed.
The rule of calculating the age of QQ is that login fully 2 hours within a day would be seen as one real day. Thus login QQ for around 700 hours would make the age of QQ grow 1 year older. From the QQ version 2012, users can see clearly the age of QQ through the personal information.
In 2004, Tencent launched QQ hierarchy. At the very beginning, this hierarchy was calculated with the hour unit and at that time, most users kept logging in to QQ to increase their QQ level. This results in the critic of wasting energy(such as wasting Electrical energy and so on)by a lot of social medias. Thus Tencent changed the level measurement from hour unit to daily unit due to the involvement of the relevant departments.
In 2010, Chinese anti-virus company, Qihoo 360, analyzed the QQ protocol and accused QQ of automatically scanning users' computers and of uploading their personal information to QQ's servers without users' consent. In response, Tencent called 360 itself malware and denied users with 360 installed access to some QQ services. The Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information reprimanded both companies for "improper competition" and ordered them to come to an accord.
Some observers have criticized QQ's compliance in the Chinese government's Internet surveillance and censorship. A 2013 report by Reporters Without Borders specifically mentioned QQ as allowing authorities to monitor online conversations for keywords or phrases and track participants by their user number.
The Chinese version of QQ makes use of embedded advertisements. Older versions of the client have been branded as malicious adware by some antivirus and anti-spyware vendors.
Both the Chinese and International versions of QQ had been tested.
On March 6, 2015, QQ scored 2 out of 7 points on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's secure messaging scorecard. It received points for having communications encrypted in transit and for having a recent independent security audit. It lost points because communications are not end-to-end encrypted, users can't verify contacts' identities, past messages are not secure if the encryption keys are stolen (i.e. the service does not provide forward secrecy), the code is not open to independent review (i.e. the code is not open-source), and the security design is not properly documented.