- The Union withdrew all of its services from the app, after ties between both parties crumbled over recent projects and alleged privacy and censorship concerns raised by SU
- uWave’s developers have apologised for deleting posts made on their forum and committed to addressing feedback from the Union
- Soapbox has established a timeline of events, based on interviews with the SU President and the founder of uWave, surrounding the departure and the heated discussion by netizens over the past three days
By Chong Xin Wei and Osmond Chia
The Students’ Union (SU) has broken ties with the developers of campus app uWave, citing alleged privacy concerns, “unprofessional conduct” and differences in direction, in a separation that has been fraught with controversy and speculation from netizens over the past three days.
In an announcement early Monday morning (Feb 8), the Union highlighted that uWave users — 18,000 of whom are NTU students — were unable to delete their accounts from the app. The announcement was later edited.
SU withdrew all of its services from the app, including NTU Perks and the #AskSU discussions forum — features implemented as part of a partnership with uWave that started in late 2019.
uWave’s developers later said they would implement a function that allows users to remove their accounts without having to email administrators.
Online discussion of the split has since erupted on NTU-related forums, with a barrage of posts and comments — some created by new accounts that were less than a day old — accusing either party of smearing the other.
Soapbox spoke to SU President Cheah Guan Ying and uWave founder Cedrik Lim, who both explained the details behind the cessation of their partnership, and established a timeline of events.
At around 9pm on Sunday, SU reached out to uWave’s developers, officially requesting to part ways. uWave agreed immediately after.
But controversy set in later on the same night, when several posts surfaced on the uWave forum asking how users could delete their accounts.
Mr Lim, 27, said a uWave content moderator grew suspicious of the posts because they had been made so quickly after the parties had agreed to cease ties, and removed the posts and banned the accounts that had made them.
The moderator’s content editing privileges have since been removed, the full-time app developer said.
Guan Ying, 25, said that one of these users asked her for help, and that this person was an acquaintance of hers who had known about the end of the partnership, but is not associated with any SU committees.
She advised the student to verify the issue with uWave, while she texted Mr Lim directly to ask about the deletion process.
When Mr Lim did not respond by 10.30 pm, Guan Ying, a third-year sociology student, used her own uWave account to post a public query about deleting her account under the #AskWave hashtag to prompt a response from the administrators.
Her post was similarly removed by uWave and her account was banned.
At around 10.50pm, uWave released an initial announcement briefly describing the dissolution of the partnership and thanking the Union for their previous support.
At around 1am, Guan Ying lodged a complaint to Mr Lim about the deleted posts and banned accounts. In the meantime, the Union published its own statement on uWave to announce the end of their collaboration.
It also detailed privacy concerns over uWave’s lack of an in-built account deletion feature and made allegations of “unprofessional conduct” by the developers.
“The Union is sincerely thankful of our partnership with uWave in the past year and we wish them all the best moving forward,” read the announcement.
SU later edited this post and dropped its concerns about account deletion, which Guan Ying said was to avoid confusion because uWave had clarified that users could actually email administrators to remove their accounts.
On Monday morning, the Union released an official statement on its website echoing its initial announcement.
Around the same time, Mr Lim and his team apologised in a second statement for the post removals and account bans: “The founders of uWave do not condone such actions. We wish to apologise for that as it was unprofessional conduct.”
The developers also listed the data that uWave collects from users, and wrote that a bug on the app had initially deleted a forum post. The uWave team decided to continue with the deletion as it was deemed “hate speech.”
But speculation was already flaring on online forums, with posts and comments on the r/NTU subreddit and uWave forum lambasting both sides. Some accused the Union of launching a smear campaign against uWave, while at least one post claimed that uWave was being “exposed for data concerns”, though it was later deleted after other netizens highlighted that it contained falsehoods.
Several posts and comments had been written by brand new Reddit accounts barely a day old — a glaring indicator that a poster is attempting to manipulate opinions with complete anonymity.
Redditors and uWave forum users have called for an end to the influx of such posts, expressing suspicion that the new accounts were created by members from either side of the broken partnership.
Guan Ying denied that SU was involved in a smear campaign against uWave.
She said: “I hope that the public will seek clarification before making their assumptions because their words affect others.”
In response to questions about the forum discussions, Mr Lim said: “We just want to settle this quickly and carry on with what we are doing.”
Alleged miscommunication, student discount mix-ups and feedback issues led SU to end partnership
Guan Ying said the Union initially decided to move away from the platform to streamline feedback to SU’s official channels, namely their social media pages, email and their website.
She said that her team would regularly see “hate comments” directed toward them on the uWave forum.
“This is a problem we always face. It’s just more prevalent on uWave… Some of these comments also contain false information,” she said.
Mr Lim said he was aware of such comments, but added that the forum is a platform for anyone to speak freely.
He said: “We try not to police anything… If we start deleting all the posts, then it will defeat the purpose of a discussion page. People talking about the situation upfront — isn’t that the best if we want to help?”
Besides the feedback channels, Guan Ying added that there was a miscommunication between both parties when exclusive student promotions sourced by the Union for NTU students were mixed up with other listings, confusing participating companies and users.
Mr Lim acknowledged the mistake, and said that the app had clearly separated uWave’s discounts and the Union’s exclusive promotions into different tabs since last month.
But the incident had already caused friction between the parties, said Guan Ying, who added that uWave did not communicate with the Union before making amendments to the app.
Guan Ying said: “NTUSU wanted help from uWave to promote new functions on the app. But after months of the partnership, they started to do their own thing and manage how students wanted to use the app.”
Mr Lim, who founded the campus app during his days as a mechanical engineering student in NTU before working full-time to run the company, said uWave’s ambitions never changed since his team started its partnership with SU.
“We need a sustainable business and have to go big…. otherwise we will not be able to provide anything for students,” he said.
“We were focused on building the product at the start and let SU handle the marketing. But after that it was a mistake on our side — everyone thinks the Union built the app. But probably as we expand and become a business, (the Union) may have lesser say in what we do.”
Amid the online discussion, uWave’s developers noted that they will be adding a feature to the settings page for users to delete their account. Mr Lim said the update will come by March.
He added that he had never encountered users who wanted to remove their account until this week, and emphasised that users were always able to request to do so.
“(Previously) the process was just not intuitive, but we have stated in our terms and conditions that (users who) want to delete your account can always email us,” said Mr Lim.
Mr Lim added that moving forward, the uWave team will take action to prevent hate speech and fake news from circulating on the platform and will look into posts that received reports from users.
Additionally, Mr Lim said uWave will be adding a friends feature to the app, in a similar vein to LinkedIn, following their launch in SMU, NUS, Ngee Ann Polytechnic and Temasek Polytechnic last month. Users will be labelled according to their schools to facilitate interaction between the communities.
Currently, users are able to freely switch between schools and participate in discussion forums of any school — including schools they are not enrolled in.
Mr Lim said: “But eventually we will have a label attached to their name. Poly students can chat with uni students and they know which schools they are from.”
Despite the withdrawal of Union services, uWave will still be able to provide users with bus schedules, crowds in school and promotions sourced by themselves.