[UPDATE: Tencent, owner of WeChat, has responded to the allegations with the following statement:
The report suggests that private log data from users such as “information about what you have searched for and looked at while using WeChat” and “people you’ve communicated with and the time, data and duration of your communications” are stored in the app servers. WeChat uses that data to target its ads more effectively. But, the Tencent-owned service’s declaration that it can “retail, preserve and disclose” data any time with the regime is unnerving for users. However, it is hardly surprising, given WeChat’s proximity to the Chinese government, and the fact that it gets its way as evident in the partial blocking of WhatsApp since July. ALSO READ: WhatsApp facing partial blocks in China: Report
WeChat has in a sustained manner been accused of self-censorship. Internet activists, if at all there are any in a controlled political setting like China’s, have claimed that WeChat’s meteoric rise has been a result of its surveillance mechanisms that aligns with the local government’s policies. In 2016, a survey conducted by Amnesty International ranked WeChat among the least secure messaging apps in the world. Its privacy protection policies got a score of 0 out of 100. That essentially means that there is little or no encryption for private messages, and the government can tap into it any moment. ALSO READ: Facebook literally snatched WhatsApp away from China’s Tencent: Report
While WeChat gains brownie points from the Chinese government, WhatsApp has to bear the brunt of new cyber security laws in the country. China’s Great Firewall, which already blocks the internet’s most popular platforms, is now “imposing censorship that selectively targets WhatsApp functionalities”. This could be the beginning of a complete ouster of WhatsApp from the world’s largest internet market. A similar fate has been faced by Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Snapchat, YouTube, Vimeo, Netflix, and others too. Simply put, local giant WeChat — which is a kind of super app in itself with several functionalities built in the app — wouldn’t allow anyone else to exist in the market.