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WeChat claims it stores all user data and could even 'disclose' it to the Chinese government

WeChat is already one of the most regulated messaging apps in the world.

  • Updated: October 4, 2017 3:46 PM IST
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[UPDATE: Tencent, owner of WeChat, has responded to the allegations with the following statement:

WeChat and Weixin consider user privacy and data protection not just a regulatory obligation but also a key part of the user experience. Weixin has recently updated its privacy policy to reflect the enhancement of user privacy and data protection laws in China. Unfortunately this fundamentally pro-privacy update was misinterpreted as an admission that we send all user data to the Chinese government. This is not and has never been the case. Our server to user messages are encrypted. In case of criminal investigations, we will provide certain information to law enforcement agencies when legally compelled to do so, which is in line with international practices.]

One of the most popular messaging apps in the world might also be among the least private ones. WeChat, also known as China’s WhatsApp, in a recent app update has notified its nearly 900 million users that it is storing their private data, and could even “disclose” it to the Chinese government. The development was first reported by The Epoch Times. WeChat users who’ve updated to the latest patch received a prompt that required them to accept a new privacy policy in order to continue using the app. The policy makes it clear that WeChat collects a whole lot of user to comply with “applicable laws or regulations”.

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.

  • Published Date: September 25, 2017 11:21 AM IST
  • Updated Date: October 4, 2017 3:46 PM IST