WeChat, the most popular messaging app in China, now warns users that it actively stores a whole range of private data and will readily share them with the Chinese authorities if needed. (Matthew Robertson/Epoch Times)WeChat, the most popular messaging app in China, now warns users that it actively stores a whole range of private data and will readily share them with the Chinese authorities if needed. (Matthew Robertson/Epoch Times)

China’s most popular messaging app WeChat now warns users in a privacy statement about how much of their private data the company shares with the Chinese regime. To no one’s surprise, it’s just about everything users type into the app.

Developed by the Chinese internet company Tencent, WeChat is China’s equivalent of WhatsApp and is used by 662 million mobile users, which makes it the dominant messaging app in China and one of the largest in the world.

WeChat users who updated to the latest patch are greeted with a new prompt that requires them to accept the privacy policy in order to continue using the app. Upon careful reading, the new privacy policy acknowledges that WeChat collects a whole range of data from its users, and to comply with “applicable laws or regulations” would readily share them with the Chinese regime.

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 among the things that WeChat freely stores and uses to customize advertisement and direct marketing.

WeChat users who updated to the latest patch are greeted with a new prompt that requires them to accept the privacy policy in order to continue using the app. (Screenshot captured by Twitter user @lotus_ruan)

WeChat users who updated to the latest patch are greeted with a new prompt that requires them to accept the privacy policy in order to continue using the app. (Screenshot captured by Twitter user @lotus_ruan)

WeChat also admits that it would “retain, preserve or disclose” users’ data to “comply with applicable laws or regulations.” Because China’s law enforcement agencies and security apparatus do not need a search warrant to seize a citizen’s property or private data, the Chinese regime would essentially have access to just about everything WeChat users send through the app.

Users who refuse to accept the latest privacy policy would be unable to access WeChat with their accounts, until they change their mind and click the “accept” button. However, because users can resume using the app anytime with their pre-existing data intact, WeChat likely plans to store all the data for a prolonged period, even when a user explicitly refuses to let WeChat manage his or her own data anymore.

The new privacy policy contains few surprises for those that have long been criticizing WeChat for lacking privacy and security protections for its users. After all, observers have attributed the dominance of WeChat in China to the company’s close collaboration with the Chinese regime in implementing self-censorship and surveillance mechanisms in the app.

WeChat certainly got an assist from the Chinse regime when it started a partial blocking of WhatsApp in July. The blocking of WhatsApp eliminated one of the few remaining messaging apps available for users in China that was not controlled by the authoritarian regime.

The Chinese regime also recently announced on Sept. 7 a new regulation mandating that the participants of WeChat message groups be responsible for managing the information posted in their respective groups. Essentially, this means that a user in a message group could be held liable and even persecuted for information that others post in the group.

It has long been noted that WeChat is among the most heavily censored messaging apps. A 2016 survey done by Amnesty International that ranks the world’s most popular messaging apps in terms of privacy protection for users gave WeChat a score of 0 out of 100, meaning that users of WeChat receive little or no encryption protection for their communications and the app is completely exposed to censorship and surveillance by the Chinese regime.

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BEIJING—China’s government has highlighted big data, encryption technology and “core technologies” such as semiconductors as the key elements of its push to grow into a tech powerhouse, according to a new five-year plan released Saturday that envisages the Internet as a major source of growth as well as a potential risk.
Even as it highlighted the need to improve Internet infrastructure to rural areas and unlock the digital economy’s potential, Chinese economic planners called for a more secure and better managed Web, with enhanced Internet control systems, Internet security laws and real-name registration policies.
Chinese officials including Internet czar Lu Wei have played down concerns over what critics have described as China’s expanding Web censorship, saying that it is the Chinese government’s sovereign prerogative and a necessary measure to maintain domestic order.
China’s development plan calls for a better cybersecurity approval system and more “precise” Web management to “clean up illegal and bad information.”
The plan also calls for a multilateral, democratic, transparent and international governance system and active participation in international Internet governance efforts.
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Premier Li Keqiang highlighted the promise of the Internet, saying Saturday that various traditional sectors, ranging from manufacturing to government to health care, need to connect to the Web and raise their efficiency as part of an overarching national strategy called “Internet Plus.” He vowed to raise research and technology spending to account for 2.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the five years through 2020, which he said would mark a “remarkable achievement.”
The five-year plan calls for all families in large cities to have access to 100 megabyte-per-second Internet service and broadband coverage reaching 98 percent of the population in incorporated villages.
At the same time, Chinese leaders, wary of over-relying on foreign technology, will seek to boost China’s homegrown industry and cut down on imports—a strategy that has drawn complaints from trade partners like the United States.
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Similar to previous years, when Chinese leaders highlighted industries such as e-commerce as a growth focus, the new draft of China’s development plan specifically elevated big data and cloud computing, relatively new and promising fields that Chinese industry experts view as not yet cornered by U.S. companies that dominate other parts of the technology market.
The plan also calls for China to catch up on “core” technologies such as semiconductors and basic computer parts and software, as well as encryption technology.
China’s campaign to beef up its chip technology has encountered political resistance from the United States. China’s national chip champion, Tsinghua Unigroup, said last month that it would abandon its attempt to acquire a stake in California data storage firm Western Digital, the second deal it has scrapped because of opposition from U.S. regulators who do not want sensitive technology to fall into Chinese hands.
MORE:China’s Publishing Ban Has Far-Reaching ImplicationsUN Criticism of China Gains Support Online

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