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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An attendee inspects the new Nexus 5X phone during a Google media event on September 29, 2015 in San Francisco, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)An attendee inspects the new Nexus 5X phone during a Google media event on September 29, 2015 in San Francisco, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A Chinese company has infected some 10 million Android devices around the world and exploits them for $300,000 a month.

The company, called Yingmob, is partly a legitimate advertising analytics company. It uses the legitimate business to get access to mobile devices. It then infects the devices with malware, according to a report by Check Point, a cyber security company.

In February, Check Point discovered a malware called HummingBad. The malware makes ads pop up on the screen of an infected device and blocks the user from any other options except for clicking on the ad. It then steals the money that an ad agency pays for the click-through on the ad.

Check Point tracked the malware to the Yingmob offices in Chongqing, southwestern China.

Yingmob’s legitimate business has access to 85 million Android devices. Check Point estimates quarter of them are infected by malicious apps.

Some 10 million devices actually use the malicious apps and Yingmob is able to display 20 million ads through them a day. That translates to about $10,000 ad revenue a day—$300,000 a month.

But the real danger for the consumer is that the malware gives Yingmob control over the device—it can access personal data and even use the devices en masse to launch hacking attacks on websites—both of which can be sold to other cyber criminals.

More than quarter of the affected devices were traced to China and India. Over 280,000 affected devices were in the United States.

Yingmob has also been linked before to malware called YiSpecter, which was discovered last year on Apple iOS devices.

Yingmob has not responded to a request for a comment.

China has been a major source of cyber security threats.

Smartphones from Chinese brands like Huawei, Lenovo, and Xiaomi were found to have a malware installed in them even before they reach customers.

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Internet freedom has declined around the world yet again, but in no place was it worse than China, which was ranked dead last, according to a new yearly report from nongovernmental organization Freedom House.

The organization said 2015 was the fifth year in a row it documented a decline in Internet freedom, as more governments around the world have censored information. At the same time, there has been a pervasive expansion of surveillance programs and a crackdown on privacy tools.

In last year’s report, Iran and Syria were the only two countries ranked below China. In 2015, those two countries are tied second-to-last and China is ranked at the very bottom. North Korea wasn’t mentioned in the survey, as there isn’t enough access to the Internet in the country. However, if the isolated, communist regime had been ranked, it would likely be pushed to the bottom near China.

Freedom House listed several reasons for why Internet freedom declined. In 42 of the 65 countries assessed, authorities told private companies to Internet users to delete content that dealt with religious, political, or social issues. That figure is up from 37 countries in the previous year.

In China, the regime pushed for real-name registration online in an attempt to make it impossible to run an anonymous blog or leave content on an online forum without using your real identity. Also, the regime’s censorship apparatus has been used to carry out so-called “Great Cannon” attacks, which allows for the intercepting of Internet traffic towards one site and redirecting it to another one, which effectively crashes the victim site.

These efforts and others are “all in addition to the kinds of typical Chinese censorship shenanigans that anyone who has spent time in the country has gotten used to – the inability to access Facebook and Twitter, messaging apps that won’t send messages about politically sensitive subjects, viral videos that suddenly disappear, and the fact that essentially nothing associated with Google, from Maps to Translate, works at all,” Freedom House wrote.

In comparison, the five top-ranked countries listed the report are Iceland, Estonia, Canada, Germany, and the United States. At the bottom after China, Syria, and Iran is Ethiopia, Cuba, and Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

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  • Author: <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/author/jack-phillips/" rel="author">Jack Phillips</a>, <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/" title="Epoch Times" rel="publisher">Epoch Times</a>
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